Asbestos from burnt building in Wellington not being monitored by the council

Dust from an asbestos-contaminated building gutted by fire is being managed by the building's owners, Hutt City Council says.

However, neither the council nor WorkSafe are doing ongoing monitoring themselves.

On Thursday it was revealed that dust samples from cars parked near the Chair Solutions building on Hutt Park Road in Gracefield had tested positive for chrystotile, a type of white asbestos.

Local workers - who paid for the testing - were angry they could have been exposed to the contaminant since the fire at the end of July.

The council's manager of trade waste, Gordon George, said two specialist firms had been managing the asbestos.

"ATL Group did initial monitoring and management of the site and Accurate Consulting took over the work. This work has been contracted by, and is being paid for by the property owner.

"There may have been less need to spray foam suppressant on the site due to a period of fairly high rainfall. With the recent few days of dry weather, council understands Accurate Consulting has recommenced dust suppression methods as needed."

However, the council was not doing ongoing monitoring itself.

"Council monitors the asbestos aspect of the site by reviewing air quality data provided by Worksafe and the previous contractor. To date, there has been nothing in this data to cause council concern."

A WorkSafe spokesperson said the site had not been a workplace since the fire and did not come under its jurisdiction.

"The Hutt City Council has issued a notice requiring the building owner to remedy any contamination. It is for the building owner and the Hutt City Council who issued the notice to ensure that the notice is being complied with, not WorkSafe.

"We are advised that regular monitoring was undertaken by an independent third party for five weeks (ending one week ago) and the results have not shown elevated levels of asbestos. We have not been advised why the testing was halted."

By Ruth Hill

rnz.co.nz

Chair Solutions which suffered a fire in July has asbestos in the roof. (Rebekah Parsons-King) Source: rnz.co.nz


US firefighter crushed by tree when retardant was dropped from plane only 30m above the treetops: report

A firefighter battling the largest wildfire in California history was killed last month when thousands of litres of flame-suppressing liquid was dropped from a Boeing 747 mistakenly flying only 30 metres above the treetops, according to an official report Friday (local time).

The pilot and a supervisor flying ahead in a small guide plane led the giant modified jetliner nearly into the trees on August 13 because the pilots failed to recognise that there was a hill in the flight path, according to the Green Sheet report by the state's firefighting agency.

Because of the near ground-level release, the retardant struck with such force it uprooted an 27 metres tree that fell on Matthew Burchett, a 42-year-old battalion chief from Utah helping with the Mendocino Complex Fire north of San Francisco.

Another large tree was snapped by the force of nearly 75,700 litres of liquid and three firefighters were injured, one seriously.

The guide pilot "made a 'show me' run" for the 747 pilot over the intended path for the retardant drop, and marked the path for the jet with a smoke trail, according to the report.

"Obscured by heavy vegetation and unknown to the (747) pilot, a rise in elevation occurred along the flight path." The ground sloped up about 50 metres so quickly that the 747 cleared the hilltop in just two seconds, according to the report.

The guide planes have two people aboard, a pilot and an "air tactical supervisor."

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Mike Mohler could not immediately say if either would face investigation or discipline for not identifying the hill.

The retardant drops were intended to help secure a fire break cut through the trees by a bulldozer to stop advancing flames.

Burchett and the other three firefighters were working on the hill next to the firebreak when the drop was announced over a radio and firefighters were told to "Clear the area out."

The four did not respond to the warning, though the report says that "when personnel are working under a tree canopy, supervisors must ensure the drop path is cleared."

It is not uncommon to have firefighters under retardant drops, Mohler said, though he could not say if the four firefighters knew they were in the flight path or why they didn't acknowledge or act on the radioed warning.

"We have ground troops under aircraft, it's not unusual at all. It's part of what we teach," he said.

A firefighter who can't move out of the way is trained to lie spread-eagled, face down, toward the oncoming aircraft, one hand holding the top of the helmet as it takes the brunt of the impact from the falling slurry and air turbulence that can threaten to lift a firefighter off the ground.

Burchett, a suburban Salt Lake City firefighter, was crushed by the uprooted tree, while the others were stuck by falling tree debris. Two had deep muscle contusions and ligament damage. One also suffered broken ribs, while the fourth firefighter had scratches and abrasions.

The report warns that some firefighters have used their cellphones to record retardant drops, which can be distracting and harm their ability to recognise the danger and take evasive action. But it does not say if any of the four injured firefighters was taking video at the time.

Firefighters Ryan Foley, center, and Andrew Arthen with San Bernardino Cal Fire make a stand in front of an advancing wildfire as they protect a home Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, in Lake Elsinore, Calif. Firefighters on Friday are protecting foothill neighborhoods in the city of Lake Elsinore near where the blaze flared up amid unpredictable winds a day earlier. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Firefighters fighting the blaze that has been raging for days in California. Source: Associated Press

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Investigators trying to pinpoint cause of gas explosions that killed a teen in Boston

Investigators worked this morning to pinpoint the cause of a series of fiery natural gas explosions that killed a teen driver in his car just hours after he got his license, injured at least 25 others and left dozens of homes in smoldering ruins.

Authorities said an estimated 8,000 people were displaced at the height of Thursday's post-explosion chaos in three towns north of Boston rocked by the disaster. Most were still waiting, shaken and exhausted, to be allowed to return to their homes.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to help investigate the disaster in a state where some of the aging gas pipeline system dates to the 1860s.

The rapid-fire series of gas explosions that one official described as "Armageddon" ignited fires in 60 to 80 homes in the working-class towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, forcing entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas and electricity.

Gas and electricity remained shut down Friday in most of the area, and entire neighborhoods were eerily deserted.

Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his car. He was rushed to a Boston hospital and pronounced dead Thursday evening.

Rondon, a musician who went by the name DJ Blaze, had just gotten his driver's license, grieving friends and relatives told The Boston Globe. "It's crazy how this happened," said a friend, Cassandra Carrion.

The state Registry of Motor Vehicles said Rondon had been issued his driver's license only hours earlier Thursday.

Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in the three communities to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggled to understand what was happening.

Some 400 people spent the night in shelters, and school was canceled Friday as families waited to return to their homes.

Gov. Charlie Baker said state and local authorities were investigating but it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers, acknowledging the "massive inconvenience" for those displaced by the explosions.

He said hundreds of gas technicians were going house-to-house to ensure each was safe, and declared a state of emergency for the affected area so the state could take over recovery efforts.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurised but said investigators were still examining what happened.

Capturing the mounting sense of frustration, Democratic U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton tweeted that he had called the utility's president several times with no response. "Everyone wants answers. And we deserve them," Moulton said.

The Massachusetts' gas pipeline system is among the oldest in the country, as much as 157 years old in some places, according to the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group.

Columbia Gas had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened.

It was not clear whether work was happening there Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.

At least one story of heroism emerged from the ashes: that of Lawrence police officer Ivan Soto. His house burned nearly to the ground, but after rushing home to check on his family and warn his neighbors to evacuate, he went back on patrol.

"He actually stayed on duty even though his house was burning down" neighbour Christel Nazario told The Associated Press. "I don't know how he did it."

The three communities house more than 146,000 residents about 40 kilometres north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border. Lawrence, the largest of them, is a majority Latino city with a population of about 80,000.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera reassured immigrants who might not be living in his city legally that they had nothing to fear.

"Do not be afraid. Stay in the light. We will support you and your family," Rivera said at a news conference Friday, speaking in English and Spanish. "Lawrence is one community."

Authorities said all of the fires had been extinguished overnight and the situation was stabilizing. But Rivera criticised the gas utility for poor communications and accused the company of "hiding from the problem."

On Thursday, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield described the unfolding scene as "Armageddon."

"There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me. I could see pillars of smoke in front of me from the town of Andover," he told reporters.

Aerial footage of the area showed some homes that appeared to be torn apart by blasts.

Brenda Charest stood anxiously on her front porch while a crew checked her undamaged home before giving her the all-clear to return Friday. On Thursday, she had come home to a hissing sound in her basement and a strong odor of natural gas.

"We took off. I said, 'Pack up, we're out of here,'" said Charest, who went with her 93-year old father and cat to a relative's home. "It was scary. We didn't know anything."

Columbia Gas was sued in 2014 after a strip club was destroyed in a natural gas explosion.

The November 2012 explosion in Springfield, Massachusetts, was caused when a Columbia employee accidentally punctured a gas line while probing for a leak.

The blast leveled the Scores Gentleman's Club, injuring about 20 people and damaging dozens of other buildings. The club owner and the gas company eventually settled the case.

Gas explosions have claimed lives and destroyed property around the U.S. in recent years.

In 2016, a buildup of natural gas triggered an explosion and fire that killed seven people in apartments in Silver Spring, Maryland.

In 2014, a gas explosion in New York City's East Harlem neighbourhood killed eight people and injured about 50.

Consolidated Edison later agreed to pay $153 million to settle charges after the state's Public Service Commission found it had violated state safety regulations. A gas leak had been reported before that blast.

A 2011 natural gas explosion killed five people in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and that state's largest gas utility was fined by regulators, who called the company's safety record "downright alarming."

As investigators worked to pinpoint the cause of a series of dramatic natural gas explosions, Charlie Baker toured the neighbourhood where an 18-year-old was killed by a falling chimney. Source: Associated Press


Auckland fares badly in quality of life survey

Aucklanders have the poorest sense of quality of life of people in eight New Zealand cities, a survey has found.

The Nielsen 2018 Quality of Life survey showed Tauranga had the best quality of life among the eight cities surveyed, with 91 percent of residents saying their quality of life was good.

Tauranga also scored highest for health, emotional wellbeing and appreciation of the natural environment.

Hutt City and Wellington were not far behind Tauranga in the quality of life stakes, with 90 and 89 percent of residents respectively saying their quality of life was good.

Only 79 percent of Aucklanders said their city was a great place to live, while 94 percent of Wellingtonians thought their city was a wonderful place to be.

Porirua residents had the dimmest view of their city, with just 72 percent saying it was great place to reside.

Just under half of respondents said housing costs were affordable - and Aucklanders were most likely to say housing was not affordable.

Housing was rated as most affordable in Dunedin, followed by Hutt City, Christchurch, and Tauranga.

Despite the high life satisfaction rating, Tauranga residents were most likely to say their city had become a worse place to live in the past 12 months. The two main reasons cited were increased traffic congestion and population.

At 83 percent, Tauranga's score for traffic frustration was significantly higher than any other city, with Auckland coming in next at 36 percent.

Christchurch residents said their city had become better over the past year more than residents of other cities, with 56 percent seeing improvements.

Good relationships, finances and health and wellbeing were the main reasons people cited for positive quality of life ratings.

Poor financial situations, health, and housing quantity, quality and cost were the main factors behind people giving negative quality of life ratings.

Just under a third of respondents living in the eight cities felt their quality of life had improved over the past year, while 13 percent felt it had declined.

Dunedin residents were most likely to see a decrease in quality of life.

Snapshots from the survey:

Overall quality of life comparisons with other cities:

Tauranga 91 percent

Hutt 90 percent

Wellington 89 percent

Dunedin 87 percent

Porirua 85 percent

Hamilton 84 percent

Christchurch 84 percent

Auckland 83 percent

Is your town a great place to live?

Wellington 94 percent

Dunedin 87 percent

Tauranga 86 percent

Hutt 81 percent

Auckland 79 percent

Hamilton 75 percent

Christchurch 73 percent

Porirua 72 percent

Do you feel a sense of pride in the look and feel of your area?

Wellington 89 percent

Dunedin 73 percent

Tauranga 66 per cent

Auckland 62 percent

Hamilton 53 percent

Hutt 50 percent

Christchurch 44 percent

Porirua 43 percent

Are your housing costs affordable?

Dunedin 65 percent

Hutt 58 percent

Christchurch 57 percent

Tauranga 56 percent

Hamilton 51 percent

Wellington 50 percent

Porirua 47 per cent

Auckland 41 percent

Reasons for positive quality of life rating

Lifestyle

Christchurch 40 percent

Tauranga 39 percent

Wellington 36 percent

Dunedin 35 percent

Hutt 34 percent

Porirua 33 percent

Auckland 32 percent

Hamilton 31 percent

Appreciation of natural environment

Tauranga 13 percent

Auckland 8 percent

Porirua 8 percent

Dunedin 8 percent

Wellington 7 percent

Hutt 5 percent

Christchurch 4 percent

Hamilton 3 percent

Health and Wellbeing

Dunedin 45 percent

Christchurch 45 percent

Tauranga 43 percent

Wellington 42 percent

Auckland 41 percent

Hamilton 41 percent

Hutt 40 percent

Porirua 40 percent

Relationships

Wellington 49 percent

Christchurch 49 percent

Tauranga 48 percent

Dunedin 45 percent

Auckland 44 percent

Hutt 44 percent

Porirua 44 percent

Hamilton 41 percent

Why has your city become a better place to live over the previous 12 months?

Improved amenities

Auckland 37 percent

Hutt 35 percent

Dunedin 32 percent

Tauranga 31 percent

Christchurch 24 percent

Wellington 22 percent

Porirua 20 percent

Hamilton 19 percent

Growth - economy and business

Tauranga 15 percent

Dunedin 12 percent

Hamilton 8 percent

Christchurch 7 percent

Porirua 7 percent

Hutt 5 percent

Wellington 3 percent

Auckland 3 percent

Good roads/roads being upgraded

Christchurch 16 percent

Tauranga 14 percent

Auckland 10 percent

Hamilton 10 percent

Hutt 8 percent

Wellington 6 percent

Dunedin 4 percent

Porirua 3 percent

Why has your city become a worse place to live over the last 12 months?

More traffic and traffic congestion

Tauranga 83 percent

Auckland 36 percent

Hamilton 32 percent

Wellington 29 percent

Hutt 25 percent

Dunedin 19 percent

Christchurch 7 percent

Increase in population

Tauranga 25 percent

Auckland 9 percent

Dunedin 7 percent

Hamilton 4 percent

Porirua 4 percent

Christchurch 3 percent

Hutt 2 percent

Wellington 1 percent

Infrastructure failing to keep up with demand

Tauranga 17 percent

Dunedin 9 percent

Auckland 7 percent

Hamilton 5 percent

Porirua 5 percent

Wellington 5 percent

Christchurch 2 percent

Hutt 2 percent

Homelessness

Wellington 44 percent

Tauranga 20 percent

Hamilton 19 percent

Hutt 16 percent

Dunedin 13 percent

Auckland 11 percent

Christchurch 9 percent

Porirua 7 percent

Crime rate increased

Hamilton 33 percent

Porirua 22 percent

Auckland 16 percent

Hutt 14 percent

Christchurch 12 percent

Tauranga 2 percent

Wellington 1 percent

Dunedin 0 percent

Lack of maintenance

Auckland 14 percent

Hutt 8 percent

Porirua 6 percent

Christchurch 6 percent

Dunedin 6 percent

Hamilton 5 percent

Wellington 2 percent

Tauranga 2 percent

rnz.co.nz

Auckland city night skyline with city center and Auckland Sky Tower, the iconic landmark of Auckland, New Zealand.
Auckland skyline at night (file picture). Source: istock.com