Workers clad in protective gear were sifting through debris at a Chilliwack demolition site this week, separating by hand anything that might be contaminated with asbestos.
But the work was short-lived.
The Yale Road site had been shut down two weeks ago by WorkSafe BC following concerns the contractor had failed to ensure the building was free of asbestos before the demolition began.
Provincial legislation requires contractors to have a building inspected by a qualified individual before demolition begins to ensure no asbestos is present. If found, the material must be properly handled and disposed of.
Failure to do that, says WorkSafe BC, exposes workers to a “high risk of serious injury, serious illness or death.”
The demolition site is at the former Shannon Court Motel near Yale and Menzies. Work began on Aug. 6, but was shut down by the end of the day by WorkSafe BC inspectors. A “stop work order” was posted at the site while tests were done to see if asbestos was present.
Asbestos, when sealed and left undisturbed, is not necessarily dangerous. However, if the fibers become airborne they can cause cancers and other lung diseases in workers years later.
Indeed, asbestos has emerged as B.C.’s top workplace killer, with 581 related deaths in the past decade, 77 of them last year.
That statistic has prompted WorkSafe BC to step up enforcement in the province to ensure asbestos is being handled properly. The agency conducted 210 inspections last year and found 43 per cent of hazardous material surveys were inadequate, often failing to detect asbestos that further tests proved was present.
Often used in insulation, the material can also be found in drywall, floor tiles, cement pipes, linoleum and spray-on fireproofing.
Five B.C. cities – Vancouver, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Saanich and Nanaimo – require demolition permit applicants to first provide hazardous material survey results. Chilliwack does not.
At the Shannon Court site, asbestos was confirmed Friday and a plan put in place to remove the debris.
However, work was halted again Wednesday when an inspection by WorkSafe BC found that “safe work procedures were still not adequate for new conditions found at the site.”
Inspectors are continuing to investigate and will provide additional information once their report is complete.
Once removed, the asbestos will likely be transported to Alberta – the closest area outside Metro Vancouver (which only accepts waste from its region) that handles asbestos.
Not all the contaminated debris makes it that far, however. In June about two dozen large bags of asbestos were found dumped just off Chilliwack Lake Road.
No charges were ever laid in that incident.
~ With files from Jeff Nagel and Jessica Peters