New Zealand strengthens asbestos ban 'to save lives'

20 June 2016

Imports of products containing asbestos are to be banned, the New Zealand government has said.

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

Environment minister Nick Smith said that exposure to asbestos posed a risk of respiratory disease and was the single biggest cause of work-related fatalities.

“The importation of raw asbestos is already banned but we are now extending this prohibition to items which contain asbestos, with a few exceptions,” said Smith.

The minister added the government recognised there were a few specialised uses for which there was no practical alternative, and so there was scope to grant an import permit in very select circumstances.

Permits would only be issued if there was no alternative product, or if the alternative was disproportionately expensive. An importer would also have to demonstrate that any risk of asbestos exposure could be safely managed, Smith said.

“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,” said Smith. “The Environmental Protection Authority will consider applications for permits case-by-case.”

New Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations came into force in April this year to ensure that asbestos is managed and disposed of safely.

The prohibition of the importation of asbestos-containing products will take effect from October 1.

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

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