Renovation Of Suva Civic Centre Halted Over Possible Asbestos Release

Minister tells public not to panic; possiblity of airborne particle release is very low

By Alisi Vucago

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, June 2, 2017) – There is a high probability that people could have been exposed to asbestos in the heart of Suva City.

It follows renovation works carried out at the municipality's civic centre by the Suva City Council (SCC) in recent weeks.

Yesterday, various authorities warned people not to go within 500 metres of the area for their own safety.

Asbestos are bundles of fibres that are used by construction companies to strengthen cement and plastics as well as for insulation, roofing, fireproofing, and sound absorption. However, asbestos has been classified as a cancer-causing substance that has been banned in several countries around the world.

Studies have shown that people exposed to asbestos may have an increased risk of developing lung cancer and a cancer of the thin membrane that lines the chest and the abdomen known as mesothelioma.

Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) arranged for PacWaste consultant asbestos experts to conduct inspections at the worksite.

The experts then ran tests on samples from the building which came out positive in the presence of amosite and chrysotile asbestos.

Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations Jone Usamate stressed that the asbestos identified in the SPREP report contained 30 percent of asbestos from the bulk material tested and was not airborne.

"SCC has been directed and is currently working on sealing off all the building openings and has cordoned off the surrounding areas with immediate effect," he said.

"This is to contain any deposit of asbestos within the building until proper asbestos removal procedures are formulated by SCC and approved by National Occupational Health and Safety Service (NOHSS)."

"SCC has also been directed to hire a consultant to immediately undertake air sampling inside the building and areas close to the Suva Civic Centre to ensure that the surrounding does not contain any hazardous material in the air."

Mr Usamate urged people not to panic as the chances of air contamination was low due to containment works already undertaken and other materials which may contain asbestos were still intact and posed no threat.

He said exposure to asbestos could lead to illness and diseases in the long term.

The European Union Delegation yesterday warned people to stay 500 metres away from the civic centre site.

EU said it would provide everybody with masks to be used when moving around the area.

"For the time being, should you drive through the city centre, remain with closed car windows and with the AC set in close circle mode or switched off," it said.

"It may sound alarmistic but consider the city centre as a contaminated area and use high precaution until further notice."

Meanwhile, Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) leader Sitiveni Rabuka said it was a serious lapse in responsibility for the safety of citizens given that asbestos caused cancer, serious illness and death.

Mr Rabuka urged the Government to criminalise the importation of asbestos laden building materials into the country.

"I strongly urge the Fiji Government to practice at home its international rhetoric to protect the environment and our people, to sign up to the Rotterdam Treaty and implement the necessary measures to protect our people," he said.

He said public safety was more important and the warning to the public should have been issued as a matter of urgency when asbestos was first found about three weeks ago.

Fiji Times Online.
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