Opinion: Underestimating asbestos

Over the past decade 581 deaths in B.C. have been linked to asbestos, making it the province’s No. 1 workplace killer.

Hard to believe that asbestos was once viewed with hope and promise – a “miracle mineral” that Canadians were proud to mine and produce.

Today, we have a better understanding of its risks.

Over the past decade 581 deaths in B.C. have been linked to asbestos, says WorkSafeBC, earning it the distinction of being the province’s No. 1 workplace killer.

Last year alone there were 77 deaths, prompting the agency to focus on this threat and make businesses and homeowners better aware of the risks and the need for caution.

But it appears more work needs to be done.

Last week demolition was halted at a worksite on Yale Road after WorkSafe BC learned the company had failed to properly inspect the building for hazardous material prior to demolition. (Asbestos threat halts Shannon Court demo, Chilliwack Progress, Aug. 14)

Sadly, that’s not unusual. Out of 210 inspections conducted by WorkSafe BC last year, 43 per cent of the hazardous material surveys were poorly done and failed to identify asbestos that was later shown to be present.

Not only does this put workers at risk, it potentially spreads contaminants to other places, like landfills.

The consequences can be fatal, although not immediate. Inhalation of airborne asbestos can lead to disease and death years after exposure.

Part of the problem is ignorance. Some, particularly homeowners, are not aware of how common asbestos was in home construction prior to the mid-‘80s.

But g reed is also a factor. Having a qualified team assess a building before demolition can be costly. And the proper removal and disposal of asbestos, if found, can also add to the cost.

However, as the statistics show, failing to adequately protect workers carries a far greater price.

Demolition companies are required by WorkSafe BC to ensure buildings are asbestos free before demolition. Several communities in the Lower Mainland also demand proof before a demolition permit is issued.

Chilliwack is not one of them.

Perhaps it should be.

As the redevelopment of older areas of the city continue, the potential for asbestos exposure grows. City council has an obligation to ensure that as this transformation occurs, robust safeguards and transparent accountability is in place.