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April 15, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Get Amongst the Asbestos

Students at Weir House are not only sharing a roof with each other, but also with the potentially deadly building material asbestos. The University confirmed last week to Salient that there is evidence of asbestos at Weir, and that action will be taken to remove it.

Weir House is a first-year hall run by the University, with over 300 student residents. Asbestos, commonly used as insulation and fireproofing, has been identified around parts of the pipework in the plant room.

The University has downplayed the discovery of the potentially deadly substance.

“The asbestos presents no danger to residents or staff at Weir House, and there is no cause for concern,” she said.

If unstable, asbestos dust particles can cause serious health issues, including lung cancer, and is more likely to affect people with weaker lungs, such as smokers. Physical disruptions such as earthquakes can cause dispersal of the deadly particles. Removing asbestos also destabilises and releases the particles.

Bentley says that the University is in the process of employing a contractor to remove the asbestos, and expect this work to be completed by the end of May. She assured Salient that the University carries out all procedures according to the New Zealand Guidelines for the Management and Removal of Asbestos, as well as all relevant health-and-safety laws.

According to the guidelines, removal is not the only option when asbestos is found in a building. If the product is in a stable condition, no further action except containment may be needed.

Although the guidelines also state that property owners should “inform tenants of the presence of asbestos and of any action relating
to it that may become necessary,” when Salient went to print Weir House management had not informed residents of the asbestos issue.

One resident Salient spoke to said some areas in the hall are out of bounds for residents, but he was not aware of any asbestos problem.

“Some areas are locked at night, like the laundry, but the only places that are banned are the balconies and the roof cavity.”

Former Weir House residents told Salient they would have preferred to know about any possible risks associated with the building.

“We paid a lot of money to live there, and as paying residents, we should be kept fully informed about where we’re living.”

A certified asbestos-removal specialist Salient spoke to said the cost of removing asbestos is calculated on a case-by-case basis, and can cost anywhere from $100 to $10,000, depending on the area and amount of asbestos.

 

What is asbestos?

Asbestos describes a group of natural minerals composed of many small fibres.

Why is it used?

Asbestos is a durable and resilient material, strongly resistant to heat, fire and chemicals. From 1940 onwards, it was widely used in a wide range of building materials. Spraying asbestos on ceiling beams in the 1970s was common, and people often admired the sparkling shimmer of the material. Asbestos use continued until the 1980s, when health risks were discovered.

How dangerous is it?

A number of diseases are caused by inhaling asbestos particles, which can carry through the air. Asbestosis (scarring of lung tissue), mesothelioma (tumours and cancers which develop in and around the lungs and intestines), pleural plaques (the thickening of membranes around the lungs), and lung cancer, are all caused by inhaling fine asbestos dust.

Is there a safe level?

There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos particles. However, particles are only released if the material begins to crumble. Bonded, bound or sealed asbestos is relatively safe, though it is recommended that any materials containing asbestos be removed for safety reasons. One Health and Safety inspector Salient spoke to said 90 per cent of the problem is solved once asbestos has been found. She said it was important to keep the asbestos contained, but not to cause people unnecessary panic.

What can be done?

The Ministry of Health recommends that asbestos should only be removed by contractors certified by the Department of Labour. Workers must use full dust respirators and cover their bodies for safety. Removing asbestos often requires breaking the materials, thus releasing asbestos particles into the air.

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