Dunedin near top for asbestos concerns

The number of people concerned about exposure to asbestos is continuing to climb across New Zealand, and Dunedin is among the centres leading the charge, new figures show.

WorkSafe New Zealand data showed 20,323 people were on the country's asbestos exposure register, as of December last year, and the tally was continuing to climb as more concerns about exposure were recorded.

Since 2011, another 2182 names had been added to the register from across New Zealand, the data showed.

That included 120 people from Dunedin, as well as others from Gore (5), Balclutha (4), Alexandra and Oamaru (3 each) and Queenstown (1).

Invercargill had 64 names added to the exposure register in the same period.

The statistics put Dunedin in third place for asbestos-related exposure concerns since 2011, behind only Christchurch (713) and Auckland (237), the data showed.

A WorkSafe spokesman said the large number of register entries coming from Christchurch was "not surprising'', given the amount of rebuilding under way following the Canterbury earthquakes.

It was not clear why Dunedin featured so prominently on the list, and WorkSafe "does not have a view on that'', the spokesman said.

"Regional variations could be influenced by any number of factors, from the age of buildings, the level of building activity [or] local publicity about asbestos.''

The data was released to the Otago Daily Times in response to an official information request, following a three-part ODT Insight asbestos investigation.

That revealed the cost of the asbestos clean-up facing Dunedin and other centres, and warned asbestos-related illness would claim more lives - including do-it-yourself home renovators - in the decades ahead.

The WorkSafe spokesman said the asbestos exposure register was a voluntary list of all people with concerns they may have been exposed to asbestos fibres at work, in the home, or from other sources.

It did not mean those being added to the register had developed, or necessarily would develop, asbestos-related disease, he stressed.

Prof David Skegg, a cancer epidemiologist from the University of Otago's department of preventive and social medicine, said it was difficult to draw "useful conclusions'' from the data.

Only a "small minority'' of those exposed to asbestos would be on the register, depending on levels of public awareness in different areas, for example, he said.

Those being added in recent years might also only be coming forward "many years after a significant exposure'', he said.

But Dunedin's high place on the list "could be a good sign, as it indicates a significant level of awareness'', he said.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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