News - Oct 18, 2022 Asbestos Assessment in Tonga

The Department of Environment under the Tonga Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC), builds on the process started by PacWaste and to utilise PacWastePlus investments to improve long-term management and abatement of Asbestos Containing Materials in Tongatapu.

The Department of Environment together with the national officer for the PacWastePlus Tonga Project conducted an asbestos assessment in August 2022 as part of an assessment to gather a priority list of ACM facilities for Abatement, and to measure the total volume.

The Ministry of Infrastructure provided a list of buildings with Asbestos Roofs and Cladding last updated in 2020 most of these properties are owned by the government of Tonga. According to the record list provided, there were sixteen buildings with asbestos-containing materials ACM mainly house roofs, and a few wall claddings. These buildings are government quarters and offices.

The National officer conducted an asbestos assessment to the sixteen buildings to observe the status of the buildings and to assess which buildings meet the EU funding Criteria for asbestos abatement works.

After the asbestos assessment, only four priority buildings satisfied the EU Criteria which are the Ministry of Infrastructure Workshop facility, Government Quarters 77 and 88, and the storage house for Quarters 35 & 40.

The findings from the Asbestos assessment for the four priority buildings with ACM have estimated a total of 2052m² of Asbestos Containing Materials present across these buildings. According to the PacWaste Survey of the Regional Distribution and Status of Asbestos Contaminated Construction Material and Best Practice Options for its Management in Pacific Island Countries Report (2015), the type of asbestos fibre present in buildings in Tonga are mainly Chrysotile, Amosite, and a very little percentage of Crocidolite.

According to the asbestos assessment, all facilities identified with ACM were of fibre cement roofs. Most of these ACM fibre cement roofs have been partially damaged by Cyclone Gita in 2018 and TC Harold in 2020. These ACM buildings are at high risk for abatement. However, there is no Code of Practice for ACM abatement in Tonga, but under the PWP Project for Asbestos Abatement there is planned work for the development of Asbestos Management & Code of Practice, and the development of regulation for an asbestos ban.

In 2014, Cyclone Ian caused extensive damage in the Tongatapu and in the outer Island Groups. Residences and other buildings with asbestos were damaged, but much of the resulting asbestos debris has been collected and disposed of. In the TC Gita in 2018 and TC Harold in 2020, a lot of buildings were damaged and destroyed in Tongatapu, in the Ha’apai groups, and ‘Eua. Following the recent Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption in January 2022 causing a tsunami that severely damaged most of the Ha’apai Island Groups wiping out the majority of residential houses including residential homes Asbestos Containing Material.

Given the opportunity from PacWastePlus to assist in ACM removal, the newly recruited programme National Officer is assisting the Tonga Department of Environment, Waste Management, and Pollution Control Division in planning awareness and education activities to raise public awareness on asbestos and how to live safely with it.

The purpose of raising public awareness is to inform the public of asbestos-containing materials in Tonga, communities, and stakeholders to know how to identify asbestos materials in construction materials and buildings, address the health risk of exposure to asbestos-containing materials, inform people living within asbestos-houses how to take safety measures, how to safely handle loose ACM within the ACM facilities and make known to public and stakeholders the government agencies involved on best practices for managing asbestos containing materials in Tonga.

There is no Code of Practice for ACM abatement in Tonga, however, under the PacWastePlus Project for Asbestos Abatement there is planned work for the development of a country-specific Asbestos Management Policy and a Model Asbestos Management Code of Practice.