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Asbestos risk across the Pacific region

New PacWaste reports detail the extent of asbestos risk across the Pacific region. Recently released reports from the PacWaste Regional Asbestos Baseline Survey identify the locations, and relative risk, of asbestos materials across 25 different islands in 13 Pacific island countries.

Historically, asbestos has been widely reported across the Pacific islands regions but until now, the available information has been either largely anecdotal or too small in scope to withstand scrutiny. The new survey details just how widespread, and serious, the issue is.

PacWaste (Pacific Hazardous Waste) is a €7.85 million, four year project supported by the European Union and implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) to improve regional hazardous waste management across the Pacific. Asbestos is one of four focus areas of PacWaste – the others include E-waste, healthcare waste and atoll solid waste management.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was once commonly used in building materials, insulation, brake linings, roofing products and other consumer items. Asbestos is now banned from most modern products as it has been found to be a major threat to human health.

When products containing asbestos are damaged or wear down over time, small fibres are released into the air and are easily inhaled. These fibres can travel to the lungs and cause inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue. After many years, this can result in asbestosis, mesothelioma and other lung cancers.

The 13 Asbestos Survey Reports have revealed that there is a substantial amount of the substance present regionally in the participating island countries, with some locations facing a notably higher risk than others.

Mr Jesús Laviña, Head of Section for Natural Resources and Infrastructure at the European Union Delegation for the Pacific, Suva explains that the new data will ensure that PacWaste can prioritise remedial actions in those locations where asbestos poses the greatest risk to human health:

“Because such a large number of sites were found, it has been important for PacWaste to target those which are most urgent. For this reason, the data collected has been assessed in accordance with an asbestos risk management methodology to rank sites on a human health priority basis. Highest priority will be given to public and government sites such as schools, hospitals and other places where members of the public are vulnerable to exposure.”

Other priority locations include those which contain the most dangerous forms of asbestos such as dated insulation materials and sources of fire damaged asbestos.

SPREP’s PacWaste Project Manager, Mr Stewart Williams, explains that the proposed programme of PacWaste asbestos inventions, worth USD 2 million, has now been released for country comment and will be followed by the final programme of works:

“Interventions will typically involve the removal of asbestos materials and wastes by trained experts using specialised equipment, followed by secure transport and safe disposal (including international export). Many locations will require the removed asbestos materials to be replaced with non-asbestos products.”

PacWaste Asbestos Survey Reports are available for Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga Tuvalu and Vanuatu. They can be downloaded from the PacWaste website at:

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