Unitec Mt Albert closes five buildings after asbestos discovered on their exteriors

Five buildings have been closed at the Mt Albert campus due to asbestos.
Five buildings have been closed at the Mt Albert campus due to asbestos. Photo credit: File

Five buildings at Unitec's Mt Albert campus have been temporarily closed after harmful asbestos was discovered on their exteriors. 

A specialist contractor detected asbestos on the outer surfaces of Buildings 111, 112, 113, 114 and 115 on Wednesday afternoon, the institute of technology confirmed.   

The buildings will remain closed while extensive internal and external testing is undertaken to determine the asbestos levels. Experts in the appropriate personal protective equipment will carry out further testing to try and locate the source of the harmful mineral.

In accordance with expert advice, the institute will also enforce a six-metre perimeter around the five buildings while further testing is conducted.

"The affected buildings will remain closed while further specialists are engaged to treat the asbestos, clean the area and remediate the air," Dan Brady, the chairman of Unitec's incident management team, said in a statement on Thursday.

"If further specific areas are identified with a higher threshold of asbestos, we will take action to ensure the proper precautions are followed."

The concerning discovery follows the closure of a floor in one of the affected buildings last week after unacceptable levels of asbestos were identified during renovations. 

Level three of Building 113 has remained sealed off after the restoration of a small laboratory led to the detection of asbestos in that section of the building. Monitoring of asbestos levels has since been ongoing. 

In a statement on Thursday, Unitec CEO Gus Gilmore said protecting the health and wellbeing of staff and students is imperative.

"We understand and apologise for the disruption this will cause. However, we take our responsibility to maintain the health and safety of our staff and students very seriously," Gilmore said. 

"Protecting their health and wellbeing is imperative while we gather more conclusive and sound data on the level of risk posed."

Teaching and learning carried out in the affected buildings will move online where possible, Unitec said. The institute's Academic Recovery Committee is also working to provide further support in areas in need of additional resources.

Unitec's Head of School, Environmental & Animal Sciences Dr Dan Blanchon and Building Construction Associate Professor Dr Terri-Ann Berry, both of whom are asbestos researchers, will guide the approach, Unitec said. WorkSafe is aware of the risk and is supporting the precautionary action.

The buildings are expected to remain closed until after the Easter holiday period.

According to the Ministry of Health, asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral comprising many small, extremely strong fibres. The fibres are highly resistant to heat, fire, chemicals and wear.

The primary way people are exposed to asbestos is by breathing in air that contains these fibres. 

Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen, and all forms of asbestos can cause cancer. The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease increases based on how long an individual is exposed to the mineral and how much of it is present.