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Don’t burn demolition waste

If you burn demolition waste from the Christchurch rebuild, people will get sick. That’s the warning from a University of Canterbury environmental chemist, who says burning building materials can release dangerous toxins including lead and arsenic. Source: New Zealand Health & Safety News

Dr Sally Gaw is urging homeowners and contractors not to burn plastic, treated or painted wood, Formica, PVC weatherboard or pipes as burning the materials exposes Christchurch people and pets to health hazards.

Houses built before 1980 would have been painted with lead-based paints, which is especially dangerous to young children if burnt. And a mixture containing copper, chromium and arsenic is often used to treat timber exposed to moisture, such as decks and fences.

“Inhaling arsenic can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea and increases the chance of lung cancer developing.” Dr Gaw says there’s been increased concentrations of arsenic in the air in New Zealand cities over winter, suggesting people are burning treated timber.

Ash from burning waste building materials is also a risk – it can contaminate the soil and poison children and pets if they eat it.

“Given the scale of the rebuild and the number of houses being repaired in Christchurch it is important that building materials are disposed of safely to prevent communities from being unnecessarily exposed to airborne toxic substances.”

The rebuild has also faced another health scare over concerns thousands of Christchurch residents may have been exposed to asbestos.

Fletcher Building insisted it was dealing with the risk appropriately, but EQC was not able to say the exact number of houses that had been affected by asbestos.