After Deadly Earthquake, New Zealand City Calls for Asbestos Registry

After an earthquake damaged more than 4,000 homes in Christchurch, New Zealand, some government officials and concerned citizens have proposed the compilation of an asbestos registry to identify homes that may contain the toxic mineral. Asbestos exposure is the cause of a number of potentially fatal diseases, including the deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma.

The local government has decided to use plasterboard to encase asbestos in the earthquake-ravaged homes. Some residents, including Canterbury District Health Board medical officer Alistair Humphrey, worry that this registry will affect property values in the area and put future homeowners at risk.

A public register of asbestos-containing homes would allow new homeowners to be sure if there is asbestos in their homes before doing any renovation work. If asbestos is present, a licensed asbestos remediation expert can address the situation. Nearby Australia has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world.

Some politicians debate whether it is better to encase the asbestos or remove it entirely from the damaged homes. Labour MP Ruth Dyson says that the current approach will create a potentially lethal legacy by leaving the carcinogen in the homes, which violates the New Zealand Earthquake Commission’s guidelines.

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