Chilliwack looks at beefing up permit process

City staffers looking at adding extra step in demolition permit process, to be in lockstep with WorkSafeBC

City staff are looking into adding a bit more red tape to Chilliwack’s demolition permit process. It’s a move that could help curb illegal dumping, while providing safer work environments for construction workers and contractors.

As reported in August, several other cities are bringing in a new step in the demolition permit process that would require contractors to produce a hazardous materials report. In cities like Vancouver, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Saanich and Nanaimo, no renovation or construction permits are issued until the municipality has a completed report on file.

Such inspections are already required by WorkSafeBC, but sometimes bypassed by contractors.

And WorkSafe has been cracking down. In Chilliwack, they arrived on scene the day Shannon Court was being demolished. No hazardous materials report was completed prior to the work starting. In the report, a representative of the contractor on site said he wasn’t aware it had to be completed.

Lacking any recorded asbestos material removal, contractors could potentially dump their materials in a number of places. Sometimes, those materials end up on the side of country roads. The Shannon Court materials were being taken to a dump on reserve, which is situated along the Fraser River.

A large load of material marked as containing asbestos was found this summer up Chilliwack Lake Road, and another large pile was recently discovered on Industrial Avenue. In both cases, these piles have been professionally packaged and labelled, but then dumped just off the road.

The Ministry of Environment confirmed with The Progress that they’ve received two complaints in the Chilliwack area through their RAPP hotline, once in June and once in July.

The City of Chilliwack also confirms that they’ve had to deal with asbestos dumping in city limits. When that happens, the city has to hire a hazardous waste contractor, who takes materials away for testing. Once it’s determined if there is hazardous material among the garbage, they have it removed properly.

Asbestos is in almost all buildings constructed prior to the mid-1980s, and is believed to be harmless if left undisturbed. However, renovations and demolition loosen the particulates and creates airborne dangers. Once breathed in, asbestos fibres remain in one’s lungs forever, and can lead to severe illness and death.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz confirmed that “staff have been looking into” making changes at the permit level, and that council is expecting a staff report to come to the next council meeting, on Oct. 6.

Proper disposal of asbestos is costly. Materials from demolitions outside of Vancouver must be sent to dedicated landfills in other regions, some of the closest facilities being in Alberta.

Hazardous Waste Management of B.C. says “if you are not sure that a material contains asbestos, play it safe and assume that it does.”

The Ministry of Environment encourages people to report illegal dumping to the RAPP line, at 1-877-952-7277, or #7277 on their cell phones.

The city says even more dumping comes at the hands of those operating clandestine labs. If illegal dumping carries the trademarks of a drug lab (barrels and containers of liquid, for example), witnesses are asked to report their findings to the fire department.