Renovations to the Suva Civic Centre’s auditorium and lower halls have been put on hold after an assessment report confirmed 30 per cent of amosite and chrysotile asbestos from tested bulk material, though it is not airborne and unlikely to affect members of the public, according to the Employment Ministry.
The heat-resistant fibre commonly used by construction companies to strengthen cement, plastics and other building needs is classified as a cancer-causing substance by the World Health Organization and is banned in over 50 countries, including Australia, where its manufacture and use was illegalized in 2003.
The assessment reports on the civic centre’s renovation site were undertaken by the Pacifica Environmental Services (PES) and Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP) and recently released.
Employment Minister, Jone Usamate. confirmed that enforcement officers of the National OHS Service (NOHSS) had dealt with the issue since the start of demolition works on the site earlier this year.
And as owners of the building, the Suva City Council have been issued a directive for all workers and contractors to immediately vacate the site, in addition to a prohibition notice, with all building openings sealed off, a wash down of the building and surrounding areas cordoned off last week.
“This is to contain any deposit of asbestos within the building until proper asbestos removal procedures are formulated by SCC and approved by NOHSS,” Usamate stated.
“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. This is to ensure that the surrounding does not contain any hazardous material in the air.”
The safe removal of the remainder of the asbestos began on June 5 under the close supervision of the Employment Ministry and certified consultants from Contract Environmental, a New Zealand based firm specialising in asbestos remediation, with the removal process confined to the Suva Civic Centre.
The SPREP has been closely involved in asbestos remediation works across the region via the European Union-funded PacWaste project and received information on the possibility of asbestos exposure on the Suva Civic Centre worksite on May 8, with samples taken on May 24 by contracted experts.
On May 31, the SPREP was advised that these samples had tested positive for both amosite and chrysotile asbestos and Government officials were notified by SPREP Director General, Kosi Latu.
The SPREP noted that a differing pubic statement purportedly from them that has been circulating on social media was not issued nor authorized by SPREP.
Precautionary measures by several business houses within a 500-metre radius of the contaminated site included a shutdown of bank headquarters on June 2 and the distribution of safety masks.
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