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Health Risks To Patea Residents Low

February 8, 2008

Health Risks To Patea Residents Low

The risk of Patea residents developing an asbestos related disease from the fire at the town’s freezing works is extremely low, says Taranaki’s Medical Officer of Health.

Richard Hoskins says published studies of short-term exposure to asbestos indicate the increase of risk to be so small that it cannot be measured. A study of a similar fire in England in 1994 showed no increase in asbestos related disease was predicted for the 16,000 to 48,000 people exposed to the smoke and dust.

“That does not mean that there is no risk, just that it is incredibly small,” Dr Hoskins says.

He says more will be known when results from the tests are known. Twenty samples have been taken from Patea and outlying areas. “They are being analysed urgently and we are hoping for results early next week.”

The results will guide the cleanup methods. It is not anticipated a further evacuation will be needed, he says.

As a precaution residents have been given instructions on how to minimise any risk. The Taranaki District Health Board’s Public Health Unit, in conjunction with the South Taranaki District Council, has issued an information sheet that will be delivered to residents today. The notice is also available at

Dr Hoskins advises residents to keep indoors with windows closed if the fire flares up and smoke or dust blows through Patea, or if any cleanup activity produces clouds of dust.

He says dust should be wiped down with a damp cloth. If dust is produced, avoid breathing it in.

People can have their car windows down or air-conditioning on when they drive through the town, unless there are obvious smoke or dust clouds.

Patea residents were evacuated in the early hours on Wednesday morning because there may have been asbestos fibres in the smoke and dust from the fire. They returned to their homes after the smoke and ash had settled.

“We would not have recommended residents return unless we were satisfied that any risk was very small and that residents could manage those risks.”

Inhaling tiny asbestos fibres in dust is the only way known to cause health problems long-term. Asbestos is harmless if it is wet or damp.

In normal circumstances, there is a very small amount of asbestos, a group of natural occurring minerals, in the air of industrialised countries such as New Zealand.


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