Hazardous Substances

Direct and indirect exposures to hazardous substances, or environmental pollution, can cause unwanted health effects. Effective management of hazardous substances throughout their lifecycle is necessary to avoid adverse health effects from either direct exposure or environmental contamination.  

The Health Protection Team’s role relates to situations where, not withstanding other agencies' responsibilities, there is a need to protect public health. Health Protection Officers provide information and advice to the public on hazardous substances including:

The Health Protection Team also:

Some Health Protection Officers are designated Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act Enforcement Officers. They enforce the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996, and related regulations, in respect of hazardous substances where it is necessary to protect public health. 

There are a variety of Government agencies that are involved with hazardous substances – it is best if you speak to the lead agency for your area of concern. If appropriate the lead agency will notify the Public Health service and it will be recorded in Hazardous Substances Disease and Injury Reporting Tool (HSDIRT). This table gives some guidance on who is best to contact in different situations:

Location/type of business Lead agency
Hazardous substances in a workplace, and in, on, or about any distribution system, gas installation or gas appliance WorkSafe NZ
Ph: 0800 030 040
Hazardous substances in air, on water or land, e.g. spray drift Hawke's Bay Regional Council
Ph: 0800 108 838
Hazardous substances on roads, road and rail vehicles, or railway line NZ Police
Ph: *555
Hazardous substances in buildings that are not workplaces (e.g. residential buildings and public places) Local councils
Hazardous substances in food or imported items Ministry for Primary Industries
Ph: 0800 693 721
Hazardous substances in or on any aircraft, including  when the aircraft is a workplace Civil Aviation Authority
0508 222 433
Hazardous substances in, or on any ship, including when the ship is a workplace.   Maritime New Zealand
0508 22 55 22  
Labelling, packaging, and required information to be provided with hazardous substances.  Environmental Protection Agency
0800 225 537
Other Health Protection – Hawke's Bay District Health Board
Ph: 06 878 8109 (ask to speak to the oncall HPO) 

Arsenic

Arsenic is a substance that is found naturally in rock, often near gold deposits. The Hawke’ s Bay Regional Council has confirmed some higher levels of naturally-occurring arsenic in groundwater at three Hawke’s Bay locations. All Hawke’s Bay households with their own ground water supply are encouraged to have the water tested for arsenic.

Lead

Lead absorption (>/= 0.48 micromol/L) and hazardous substance injuries are ‘notifiable’, this means that they have to be reported (under section 74 of the Health Act 1956) to the Medical Officer of Health. For more information on this click here.

Health Protection staff provide advice to enquirers and notified cases about lead and other hazardous substances. For non-work related notifications, Health Protection will investigate the source of lead poisoning and provide advice. Lead poisoning originating from workplaces is assessed by WorkSafe. 

Exposure to lead can result in lead poisoning, which can be serious and can cause health issues and symptoms. Infants and preschool children in contact with flaking paint or lead-contaminated dust or soil are particularly at risk of developing lead poisoning. Click here to find out more about lead poisoning.

The main source of non-occupational exposure to lead in New Zealand is lead-based paint on and around houses built before about 1970, but particularly before 1945. Indoor rifle shooting, casting of lead bullets, fish sinkers and diving weights, lead smelting and consumption of alternative medicines can also result in lead exposure. 

Asbestos

Asbestos is a proven carcinogen and exposure can cause lung cancer and disease. People can be exposed to asbestos by breathing in tiny asbestos fibres in the air. Asbestos containing material is not a risk to your health, providing it is in sound condition and is not disturbed. Click here for more information on asbestos, the health risks of it and what you can do about it.

If you want to know if the building material at your premises contains asbestos, a contractor on  WorkSafe New Zealand’s list of certified contractors should be able to assist you. Click here for more information on asbestsos sampling and testing.

If you want to remove or seal asbestos, it’s best to have this done by a professional qualified asbestos removal contractor. See the list of certified contractors who can safely remove or seal asbestos.

There are a range of different agencies responsible under legislation for aspects of managing  asbestos risks, and providing advice. Hawke’s Bay has an Asbestos Liaison Protocol (Liaison guidelines for Government Agencies and Councils with regulatory duties in relation to asbestos) to which the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board Health Protection Team is a party. The other parties are WorkSafe NZ, Napier City Council, Hastings District Council, Wairoa District Council, Central Hawke’s Bay District Council and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. In general the Health Protection Team has a role in situations where a large number of people have, or potentially could be exposed.

If after reading this information, you have a general query about the health risks of asbestos then please contact the Health Protection Team.

Spray drift

Agrichemicals are chemicals used in agriculture for various reasons. When the spray drifts away from the target area, it is known as spray-drift. The Health Protection Team’s role is to advise about possible adverse effects of spray-drift and steps you can take to minimise those effects.

Spray-drift may:

  • affect your health. If this occurs contact your doctor who is required to notify the Medical Officer of Health under health and hazardous substance legislation
  • contaminate (make unsafe) water supplies, such as drinking water collected from the roofs of houses
  • contaminate fruits and vegetables
  • harm pets and livestock.

If you are exposed to spray-drift, note down the following details if you know them:

  • how you first became aware of the spray-drift
  • the time, date and weather (especially the wind strength and direction)
  • the colour and smell of the spray, if obvious
  • who was spraying, and the equipment used
  • who else is spraying in the area
  • the type of aircraft (if used), its identification number and colour, and the direction it came from
  • an estimate of its height above the ground
  • any symptoms occurring after the spray-drift, and how long it was between the spray-drift and the symptoms starting.
  • You may even be able to video or photograph what is happening.

Report spray-drift to Hawke's Bay Regional Council Pollution Response Team on 0800 108 838. Click here for their information sheet on Spraydrift and Spraying.

You may also want to:

  • shower and change your clothing if you have been exposed to spray-drift
  • wash exposed foods, like fruit or vegetables before cooking or eating them
  • disconnect pipes to water tanks collecting rain water from a roof until the roof has been washed down by the next rainfall.

Vertebrate Toxic Agents

Vertebrate Toxic Agents (VTAs) are hazardous substances that are used to control vertebrate pests like rabbits, possums, and rodents. A Health Permission must be obtained from a Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996 Enforcement Officer in the Health Protection Team before using any of the following VTAs in areas where a public health risk may be created, or areas from which drinking water is drawn:

  • sodium fluoroacetate (1080)
  • potassium cyanide
  • sodium cyanide
  • yellow phosphorous
  • 3-chloro-p-toluidine hydrochloride (DRC 1339)
  • microencapsulated zinc phosphide (MZP) paste.

Please contact the Health Protection Team if you are considering using any of these VTAs in the Hawke’s Bay region. Advice about the application process (including the application form) can be obtained from the Health Protection Team, or alternatively from the Ministry of Health web-site.