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B.C. Insulators welcome federal asbestos inventory

Russell Hixson
B.C. Insulators welcome federal asbestos inventory

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has completed and released its National Asbestos Inventory and a leading B.C. insulator official is giving it high marks.

"I think the inventory that the feds have done is a fabulous inventory and it should have been done long ago," said Lee Loftus, business manager with the B.C. Insulators Union.

The inventory lists all buildings owned or leased by PSPC, identifies the name and address of the buildings, and indicates whether or not they contain asbestos. There are over 2,180 properties on the list, and of those, 716 are identified as having a known presence of asbestos. This includes parts of the Vancouver International Airport, the post office in Brooks, Alta., the Winnipeg Taxation Centre and many more. Some buildings are a mystery, like the 10-storey Sandwell office building in downtown Vancouver which is listed as having "missing information."

Other government departments that own or lease buildings are expected to publish their own inventories within the next 12 months. Inquiries about properties owned or managed by other government departments should be addressed to the respective departments.

All buildings owned or leased by PSPC that contain asbestos are required to have an asbestos management plan. If asbestos has recently been discovered, an asbestos management plan may not yet be in place. PSPC stated that it is working with landlords to ensure that asbestos management plans are developed for the few leased buildings that do not yet have them. They anticipate that the work should be completed within the coming months.

Loftus has spent more than 40 years working in the insulation industry. He has seen friends and co-workers impacted by asbestos-linked diseases and has campaigned for years to educate the province and industry about the dangers of asbestos fibres.

He explained that some provinces have previously done similar work but it was often incomplete and not kept up to date. Loftus added that his conversations with officials in Ottawa indicate that the government is committed to work in the coming year to ban asbestos. However, he doesn’t understand why it’s taking so long to push the ban through Parliament with many groups — from mesothelioma victims to Workers Compensation Board officials — pressuring politicians.

"I think we will get to a complete ban," Loftus said. "I think [government] understands the issue."

Loftus also noted that the inventory coincides with an energy audit of government buildings making it a great opportunity to improve building performance and remove asbestos.

"If we can convince them to bring them up to LEED level standards, we would see a quick return on their investments," Loftus said. "It’s a great opportunity for them to catch a couple of objectives."

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated he would move forward with a ban while speaking at Canada’s Building Trades Union policy conference in Ottawa.

"We’ve actually made a commitment that we’re moving forward on a ban here in Canada," Trudeau replied when questioned about a ban by a union representative."We are moving to ban asbestos. We know that its impact on workers far outweighs any benefit that it might provide."

In early 2016, PSPC undertook a review of the use of asbestos in PSPC facilities to address health and safety concerns and concluded that alternative materials were available for use in construction and major rehabilitation projects. Based on that, as of April 1, 2016, the use of asbestos in PSPC’s new construction and major renovation projects was prohibited. At the same time, it was also announced PSPC would develop the inventory of its buildings to identify those that contain asbestos.

The creation of the inventory list follows a recent trend when it comes to acknowledging the dangers of asbestos. Last summer the government officially stopped stating that chrysotile, a common type of asbestos that the country has long mined and exported, is less harmful than other types.

The World Health Organization and other international groups have said for decades that all forms of asbestos are cancer causing and not safe in any amount.

Health Canada also altered its position to advise that breathing in any amount of asbestos fibre and not just "significant quantities" is harmful. Chrysotile is one of the three types of asbestos fibre generally found in construction.

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