More than a third of all Bay of Plenty District Heath Board's hospital buildings have asbestos contamination, including a cancer centre, renal units, patient wards, a medical laboratory and kitchens.
Tauranga Hospital has 23 buildings that contain asbestos and Whakatane Hospital has 22. There are around 120 buildings across both hospitals.
The 45 affected buildings are listed on the Bay of Plenty District Health Board's asbestos register which was provided to the Weekend Herald under the Official Information Act.
The main hospital buildings contain no asbestos because they were built after 2000.
All the affected buildings are occupied but the DHB says all the asbestos is contained and poses no risk to people using the buildings.
"We are confident there is no risk whatsoever to our staff, patients, visitors or contractors of any issues related to potential asbestos exposure," DHB property services manager Jeff Hodson said.
"Any asbestos which may be present is safely managed," he said. "It is our duty to ensure that, and we take that duty very seriously. "Asbestos was a universally used building material up until the 1970s-80s in New Zealand and, as such, its presence in buildings of that era or pre-dating it is not uncommon," Hodson said.
The DHB said it had no immediate concerns about the asbestos, which was generally in the form of roofing, cladding or pipe insulation. Its presence had no impact on patient movement or clinical services.
"The board and executive take these matters very seriously. Additional resource has been put in place to address any known issues and to monitor the situation on an ongoing basis. The board receives regular updates and progress reports," DHB chief executive Helen Mason said. The level of contamination varied between buildings and Hodson said there was an ongoing removal plan, "as and when required", as part of other works.
Hodson said the DHB took the issue so seriously that it created a staff role earlier this year to deal solely with the asbestos issue. Eventually, that would be expanded to deal with other hazardous materials.
The removal would have no impact on the DHB's financial situation and it had not informed the Ministry of Health of the issue.
"In general terms, if and when we do have any concerns that the ministry should be aware of, we are very proactive in contacting them. As this is not the situation in this case, no contact has been made," Hodson said.
Asbestos poses a negligible risk as long as the materials it is contained in, such as cladding panels and roofing tiles, are undamaged and have not deteriorated, which would release the dangerous fibres into the air.
Hodson said some of the asbestos was in a friable state (easily crumbled) but that was under buildings and vents had been closed off to prevent the spread of any asbestos fibres.
Hodson said the DHB was required by law to have an asbestos register and management plan but prior to that had already been using best practice for asbestos for a number of years.
A spokeswoman for the ministry said it was always concerned when potentially harmful substances such as asbestos were identified in public health buildings.
"District health boards are responsible for managing any risks related to their buildings, including any risk to the safety of staff, tenants and the general public and they are expected to notify the Ministry of Health if there are significant risks.
"While the DHB has not formally notified the ministry about its asbestos levels, the ministry understands the DHB is actively managing the situation and it has assured the ministry there is no risk to staff, patients and visitors relating to asbestos exposure. All health and safety issues are being addressed," the spokeswoman said.
Health Minister David Clark, who left for Europe on Friday, said in a statement that as he visited DHBs he had encountered a range of building issues, including asbestos.
"This is an operational matter for DHBs and they are experienced in managing such situations while ensuring staff and patient safety. It does, however, highlight the need for ongoing capital investment in our health infrastructure."
It comes after the Reserve Bank building in Wellington was evacuated and closed on Wednesday after traces of asbestos were found on level one. Inspections were carried out and it is expected to reopen next week.
On May 8, a supplies storeroom was closed at Whangarei Hospital after asbestos residue was found in the rafters. Another temporary supply room was set up while the building was assessed.