Asbestos warning for would-be Kiwi home renovators

Worldwide border closures have resulted in a boom in Kiwis taking up DIY projects.

But health experts are warning would-be home renovators to be wary about picking up the tools - especially when there's asbestos involved.

For 79-year-old Palmerston North resident Maureen Saville life isn't quite as it used to be. The incurable lung cancer mesothelioma has slowed her down.

"I started getting around the golf course and I couldn't breathe," she says.

Mesothelioma is a rare lung cancer caused by asbestos. Around a 100 Kiwis are diagnosed each year - up from just a handful in the '70s. Unlike other cancers, it takes years to show up.

"If you're 25 now you mightn't get crook lungs until you're 60," Saville says.

With border closures feeding the Kiwi love of DIY, researchers feel now's the time for a warning about asbestos.

"I'm particularly concerned that in the DIY industry and with home renovators, it's something that people are thinking of something that was grandad's problem now, and that couldn't be further from the truth," says Dr Terri-Ann Berry, Director, Environmental Solutions Research Centre (ESRC) at Unitec.

Dr Berry is so serious about mesothelioma she's having her head shaved to raise awareness.

"There's a trend for people to do it themselves and what I really want to do is get people to just check before they rip into things, just check before you start disturbing stuff," she says.

You're no longer allowed to import asbestos but it can still be found in roofing, textured paint, ceilings, wall joints, and pipes to name a few. And you don't even have to be working directly with the toxic material.

"That would be the types of people that their parents potentially were tradespeople or working in environments and they've potentially come home putting fibres on their clothing," says NZ Demolition and Asbestos Association's Sarah Tohill.

Saville was affected after washing her tradesman husband's jeans for years.

The cancer-causing fibres are easily ingested if you don't know what you're doing and experts say if you're unsure about starting work you should get assessors in for an asbestos survey.

They say it's better to be safe than sorry.