19 Sep 2016

Solomon's hospital fire sparks call for Pacific-wide ban on asbestos

12:30 pm on 19 September 2016

The discovery of previously unknown asbestos after a hospital fire in Solomon Islands has sparked a call for a Pacific-wide ban of the toxic substance.

The site of the old Gizo Hospital has now been cleared and confirmed as asbestos-free.

The site of the old Gizo Hospital has now been cleared and confirmed as asbestos-free. Photo: Supplied/ Main Brad Wallace. Inset: Jagie Lilo Lyon/Facebook.

Gizo Hospital, in the country's west, had been cleared of asbestos in a study carried out by the Pacific Community's environmental programme, SPREP, prior to the July fire.

But local inspectors identified asbestos, which is dangerous when it becomes airborne, after the fire destroyed much of the hospital.

A SPREP team identified materials used in recent renovations as the likely cause of the contamination.

PacWaste project manager Stewart Williams said the cost of clearing old asbestos was already daunting, without more being imported.

Damaged asbestos flooring materials are safely removed at a building adjacent to the site of the fire. Photo: Brad Wallace.

Damaged asbestos flooring materials are safely removed at a building adjacent to the site of the fire. Photo: Brad Wallace. Photo: Supplied/ Brad Wallace

"Altogether on the Pacwaste project we are spending about $3.5 million on the asbestos project and probably about $2.5 million on physical intervention.

"But it is a drop in the ocean because that is quite small compared to the total cost of asbestos removal in the Pacific, which we gauge would be around US$150 million"

Asbestos is not banned in any Pacific country, and New Zealand is only bringing in an asbestos ban later this year.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) asbestos related diseases are responsible for more than 100,000 deaths each year.

The topic of a Pacific-wide ban on the import of asbestos products will be raised at a SPREP meeting in Niue later this month.

Asbestos removal works in progress at the site of the old Gizo Hospital. Photos: Don Hemmer.

Asbestos removal works in progress at the site of the old Gizo Hospital. Photos: Don Hemmer. Photo: Supplied/ Don Hemmer

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