Asbestos risk warning for Haʻapai schools

PHOTO:  Children walk to school in Koulo Village on April 10, 2007 in Ha’apai, Tonga. Photo/ Amy Toensing/ Reportage by Getty Images. 

The Tongan government has been warned that school children at Haʻapai primary schools could be at risk of asbestos contamination.

Asbestos is a chemical that can create a health risk if the materials it contained were disturbed or broken up and fibres it made up with were released into the air.

Lord Tuʻihaʻateiho warned Parliament last week reminding the Prime Minister some of the schools in Haʻapai had been previously identified that building materials used for their construction contained asbestos.

He said he understood work was underway by US military personnel to clean and remove the hazardous materials in the northern islands and they were expected to come to Haʻapai.

“I ask that if they come to Haʻapai let them look at [these schools] as it is very hazardous to school children’s life if they inhale it,” Lord Tuʻihaʻateiho said in Tongan.

Government response

The Minister of Health responded and said a project had been initiated this year by World Bank organisation to remove all asbestos contained materials in buildings in Haʻapai.

The minister said such materials at government’s quarters in Hihifo, Haʻapai had been removed by replacing them with new roofs.

He said he believed the primary schools were included in the World Bank’s project.

Lord Tuʻihaʻateiho would not name the schools he said were at risk of asbestos contamination.

Kaniva understands these schools were affected when Cyclone Ian struck the islands in 2014 leaving about 90 percent of the residents homeless.


Asbestos was banned in the late 1980s in New Zealand after it was recognised as causing cancer. Patients who suffered diseases caused by asbestos find them crippling, very painful and usually fatal.

There are no known cures.

The work to remove the fatal chemical requires specialist asbestos removal contractor and it is expensive.

In May 2014 a Herne Bay school in Auckland was closed down for weeks before an investigation was underway to determine whether asbestos dust from a nearby building site where demolition and asbestos removal work was being carried out spread into the school compound.

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