Shannon Court demo halted due to asbestos threat

WorkSafe BC visited Chilliwack demolition site last Thursday and found that required hazardous material assessments were not carried out

A stop work order has been placed at Shannon Court in Chilliwack

Shannon Court lies in ruins this week, reduced to a chaotic pile of debris that may be contaminated with asbestos.

And it will stay that way until the developer attempting to level the site can have the materials there assessed, demolished, and disposed of properly.

As of Thursday, mattresses and other personal effects were mixed in with drywall, wiring, and dust. Some walls were still standing, as mounds of building material leaned up against them. The entire site near Yale and Menzies had been fenced off for a week already, with a large sign that warns: Absolutely no admittance.

The demolition began early last Thursday morning, when an excavator and other trucks and equipment moved onto the site. But their work day stopped at 4:30 p.m., when WorkSafe BC visited the site and found a major oversight.

According to the ensuing report, Inspector Brenda Lavalle confirmed almost immediately upon arriving that nobody had checked to ensure the buildings were asbestos free. This is a requirement of demolition companies, and the removal, transport and disposal of asbestos is heavily regulated.

WorkSafe BC provided The Progress with the initial investigation report from the Aug. 6 stop work order.

In it, everyone involved with demolition claimed they did not know an inspection of the site for hazardous materials was required.

“Prior to the start of the demolition of the older motel units at this location, the employer (Prime Contractor) failed to have a qualified person conduct an inspection of the site to identify the hazardous materials that may be handled, disturbed or removed during the demolition, thereby potentially exposing the workers on site to those materials,” the report states. “This is in contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation Section 20.112(2).”

Not doing so can expose workers to a “high risk of serious injury, serious illness or death.”

Now that the work has started, all the material on site would be considered contaminated. A demolition contractor who is not working at the site told The Progress that proper de-contamination of the asbestos-containing material may have cost about $30,000. But now that the entire site and all materials could be contaminated, that cost could be closer to $200,000.

The demolition cannot continue until the site is properly assessed. WorkSafe’s report states that a hazardous materials survey (inspection and report of findings) is to be completed by a qualified person.

“Before work begins on the demolition or salvage of machinery, equipment, a building or a structure, or the renovation of a building or structure, all employers responsible for that work, and the owner, must ensure that a qualified person inspects the machinery, equipment, building or structure and the worksite to identify the hazardous materials, if any.”

According to the report, five truck loads of materials had already been trucked freely through Chilliwack and delivered to a local landfill. Asbestos-contaminated material is required to be properly bagged, and transported in a lined bin. It cannot be dumped at the Bailey Landfill, and is trucked to Alberta. The closest collection site, in Metro Vancouver, only accepts materials for its region.

While WorkSafe’s regulations are in place to protect workers, at least one neighbour of the site is worried about health impacts on the community.

James Rogers says the former tenants of Shannon Court are going onto the site at night, to sift through the tall piles of debris for belongings.

“I’m worried about health,” he says. “It’s a rat’s nest in there and people digging through for whatever’s in the pile.”

There is security on site, he adds, but it isn’t necessarily helping.

And he worries the asbestos could fly through the air when it’s windy, and end up in the lungs of anyone who breathes it in.

“They didn’t get the proper permits, these are things I’m hearing,” he said. “It’s really concerning.”

While asbestos has not been identified yet, the age of building leads WorkSafe to assume it’s present.

The apparent age of the buildings makes them highly suspect of containing hazardous materials, specifically asbestos.”

Asbestos presents no danger when it remains undisturbed, however once renovations and demolition begin, asbestos releases into the air. And once it’s in someone’s lungs, it stays there forever.

The company in charge of the demolition and the hiring of the subcontractors is listed as a numbered company, #1002958 Ltd. The site is being cleared to become part of the townhouse complex which is currently under construction right beside it, at the end of Macken Road near Portage Park.

Lisa Thompson, the City of Chilliwack’s director of development, said the company had all their permits with the municipality in place. The city does not require proof of a hazardous materials inspection, and leaves the onus to get that done on those doing the work.

“It’s not in our jurisdiction to be asking people to obtain that report,” she says.

jpeters@theprogress.com

RELATED STORY: Asbestos threat grows with tide of house tear-downs.

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