Mould in cars trapped beneath the fire-damaged NZ International Convention Centre in Auckland could be dangerous to people's health, a specialist has warned.
Tim Dorrington, technical manager of Papamoa Beach-based Mould Inspections, raised concerns about the risk to people about to retrieve about 180 cars still beneath the building, which suffered a large blaze in October last year.
"These cars should be decontaminated before being removed from the car park. They will no doubt be opened and who knows what the level of toxicity will be by now and what scale of health issues this can cause," said Dorrington, an internationally accredited mould inspector.
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But SkyCity Entertainment Group chief executive Graeme Stephens stressed yesterday that the cars were write-offs and their safe removal was a priority.
Stephens said yesterday: "They're write-offs, mouldy."
"They're still down there but they're getting closer to getting removed."
A company spokesperson said today: "There is complexity to the safe removal of the vehicles. This is why the team are taking the time to consult appropriately."
Dorrington said there was very little understanding of microbial growth and the potential for associated diseases which could be caused through unprotected exposure.
Chaetomium and Stachybotrys were risks. People coming in contact with the mouldy vehicles without full protection could suffer immune system and respiratory issues, he said. Autoimmune diseases and infections, allergic diseases, respiratory infections, fatigue, headaches and dermatitis were possible after exposure to toxic mould, he said.
Water would have soaked into upholstery, carpets, interior door, ceiling, boot and floor linings, he said, and that spelt big warnings in his industry.
"Workers and owners shouldn't go anywhere near these vehicles without filtered particle masks and high-end personal protection equipment," Dorrington said. More than three months of sitting in dark, damp conditions could create a highly toxic environment.
Stephens said yesterday around 180 vehicles remained trapped on level B4 of the NZ International Convention Centre.
On October 22, a fire broke out at that $703 million project in the Auckland CBD as it neared completion. The fire was not extinguished fully for six days. Millions of litres of water flooded basement levels, leaving vehicles trapped.
The site has since been shut, leaving the cars in their graves. The water was drained but mud is said to have remained.
Until yesterday, little had been heard about the cars and their fate since late last year.
Stephens emphasised insurers had paid out and the vehicles' future was "academic" because they were ruined beyond repair.
Cars were also trapped in buildings and basements after the Christchurch earthquakes and insurers paid out on those.
Joe Carolan, a Unite Union senior organiser, said in October that many of the trapped cars were SkyCity workers' vehicles. Lives had been thrown into disarray, he complained at the time of the fire.
But SkyCity had given a daily $50 transport credit to workers. Carolan said that was not enough to cover people who had to travel from various areas of Auckland. Some workers were understood to have rented vehicles until insurance payouts were received.