Govt moves on asbestos-containing products

  • Nick Smith

The importation of asbestos-containing products is to be banned, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith announced today.

“Exposure to asbestos poses a risk of respiratory disease and is the single biggest cause of work-related fatalities, at 170 per year. The importation of raw asbestos is already banned but we are now extending this prohibition to items which contain asbestos, with a few exceptions,” Dr Smith says.

An inventory released by the Ministry for the Environment in 2014 shows asbestos is no longer imported for use in buildings or where members of the public are likely to be exposed to it. However, it is still imported for a limited number of specialist products, such as gaskets, seals and brake linings.

“The Government recognises there are a few specialised uses for which there is no practical alternative. For that reason, there is scope to be granted a permit to import – but only in very select circumstances,” Dr Smith says.

“A permit will only be issued if there is genuinely no alternative product available, or if the alternative would be disproportionately expensive. In addition, an importer would have to be able to show that any risk of asbestos exposure can be safely managed.

“I expect the only people or organisations likely to need to import these kinds of products will be very limited and associated with older machinery, and a small number of vintage plane or ship restorers. The Environmental Protection Authority will consider applications for permits case-by-case.”

The ban will not affect asbestos in existing buildings or products. The existing stock of products containing asbestos is managed through other legislation – primarily the Health and Safety at Work Act regulations - and such products are phased out and safely disposed of as they reach the end of their useful life. New Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations came into force in April this year and are designed to ensure that asbestos is managed and disposed of safely.

“The decision to ban asbestos-containing products was made this month, and the necessary Orders in Council are currently being drafted. The prohibition will take effect on 1 October.

“This ban is part of the Government’s programme of reducing exposure to harmful products. It will bring New Zealand into line with overseas jurisdictions such as Australia, and will save lives.”