Asbestos scare for Carbonear town workers

Melissa Jenkins
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Town unaware of contamination, taking steps to protect workers


Between Thursday, May 15 and Tuesday, May 20, five employees with the Town of Carbonear's public works department received letters from their employer in the mail.

A sign has been placed on a pole in Carbonear in front of what remains of the former Bond Theatre to warn the public about asbestos on site. The sign was erected after five town workers were possibly exposed to the harsh substance.

In each letter, the workers - four labourers and a heavy equipment operator - were informed there was a chance they had been exposed to asbestos on a jobsite.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre formerly used in buildings and structures because of its highly durable qualities. It is no longer used because it is a dangerous substance when the fibres are inhaled, and has been known to cause chronic illnesses, such as mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural thickening.

No knowledge of presence

The workers, who The Compass has decided not to identify due to the sensitivity of the situation, were responsible for clearing the sidewalks in front of the former Bond Theatre on Water Street following a fire April 23.

The building, which had been renovated about a decade ago, had vinyl siding placed over asbestos siding (transite sheeting), something the town was unaware of.

"It never occurred to staff that there was a threat of exposure to asbestos, otherwise, (workers) would not have been sent to the site, nor would (they) have placed themselves in an unsafe situation," town administrator Cynthia Davis told The Compass.

It was a few days after the possible exposure when one of the workers witnessed a clean-up crew in protective attire picking up debris. When he spoke with them, he learned asbestos was present.

A call was made to Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) and the town, and soon after a sign was erected notifying the public and site workers that there was asbestos present.

Low-risk, says OH&S

Service NL spokesperson Vanessa Coleman-Sadd informed The Compass through email a complaint had been issued on May 7 by an affected employee. Coleman-Sadd referred to the exposure as "non-friable, which has minimal risk for exposure."

The asbestos awareness program at the University of Toronto compares friable asbestos with non-friable.

It describes non-friable as a "product ... in which the asbestos fibres are bound or locked into the product matrix, so that the fibres are not readily released. Such a product would present a risk for fibre release, only when it is subject to significant abrasion through activities such as sanding or cutting with electric power tools."

Siding and other solid asbestos materials fit into that category.

A concern that the fire, the use of high pressure fire hoses on the building and the use of leaf blowers being considered significant abrasion was discussed by a worker. He believed the agitation may have lead to the breaking apart of the product, thus a danger to those on site without protective gear.

One worker was especially concerned because tools used for the job included leaf blowers, which could have blown asbestos remnants into the air, and potentially into their lungs.

It could take years or decades before effects can be seen from possible exposure.

An asbestos removal company was brought in to help clear debris. There are some 100 registered asbestos abatement contractors with the provincial government.

Next steps

In the letters, workers were advised to see a doctor, just in case exposure had taken place. At least two had x-rays completed on their respiratory system by Friday, May 23.

If the exposure does cause any health issues, Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation commission outlined for The Compass what types of treatment an employee could receive.

"Compensation may include wage-loss benefits; health care benefits to cover the costs of medications, treatments, assistive devices, personal care and other services as medically necessary; and, a lump sum permanent functional impairment award for permanent restrictions resulting from the disease," Carla Riggs, communications director for the organization, told The Compass in an email.

This was the first incident the town administrator has been made aware of since she began her position 16 years ago. Davis has confirmed more training in hazard recognition will be completed.

"This situation has been an eye-opener for everyone ... but it provides an opportunity now to complete further training in hazard recognition and to identify the possibility of such a hazard for future jobs," explained Davis. "(It will also help) identify controls for implementation in (the) future so staff are not exposed to hazardous materials that could post a risk to their health and safety."

Melissa.jenkins@tc.tc

Editor's note: The Compass was informed of a fifth worker that had been in the vacinity of the work site who may have also been exposed. We apologize for the error.

Organizations: The Compass, Bond Theatre, University of Toronto Compensation commission

Geographic location: Carbonear, Water Street

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Recent comments

  • Hook, Line, and Sinker...
    June 02, 2014 - 08:07

    2nd. sending... Mr. Editor, you should please send my reply re Mr. Thistle's comments. I should be given the right to defend myself. Thank you. My friend, Mr. Thistle, by the time I read and saw the story in The Compass newspaper the fire had long been over, and out. As for my comments, I call it like I see it, and, I see by what you write that you may be one of those lackeys looking for a few crumbs to fall your way. I am only a messenger, and free to express the way I see it, and I did make some valid suggestions in my two postings, more than what you did. If I did rattle your cage, good… it's an attempt to wake you up, and try and get you, and others THINKING... Daaaaaaa! Wake up, and look around you… Don’t swallow all that comes your way, hook, line and sinker.i.e. Mother's Goose's stories. Anyway, my friend, lighten up... hahahahaha

  • Lessons Learned..
    May 30, 2014 - 07:20

    The Workers Union should do their own investigation, maybe, starting with the Dept of Municipal Affairs to see what they know, if anything, about the old Carbonear Theater, and contact families of the deceased in Baie Verte, and St. Lawrence mines on the Burin Peninsula to understand first hand the end results of working with hazardous materials. Question the truth of what Service NL spokesperson Vanessa Coleman is saying as “non-friable” exposure being a minimal risk. Remember the breast cancer fiasco, and how they butchered our NL women. Lessons learned… Big Danny and J. Ottenheimer in the very beginning of the fiasco wanted to “handle the affair internally,” in other words, sweep it under the rug. Was Carbonear native lawyer Margaret Cameron’s inquiry only a cover up in the end? Even Kennedy tried to stop the inquiry at one point, saying it was costing too much. Lessons learned… Do not trust what they tell you. To [them], it only means one less old age pension cheque to issue. There are people out there who do know what has gone down. Bye the way, the old RC Nun’s Covenant, the old glove factory, [formerly the Boys Club/Air Cadets building], and the Old St. James School, maybe, possibly, could be potential investigative sites in the best interest of public health and safety. Have these buildings been covered up with vinyl siding treatment over the years, I assume with the proper permits? At any rate, I am sure the new Town enforcement officer has done his due diligence re: permits issued, and has already reviewed all previous renovation permits issued to any questionable buildings, and has done follow up inspections to any and all potential hazard buildings. Anyways, I am sure that all is in good hands, and Sammy Claws is there leading the charge on any inquiry into how our brave fireman, and Town workers ended up, possibly, in harm’s way… Unless, of course, he is too busy wheeling and dealing for more asphalt to top of Bunker’s Hill.

  • Selective Memory
    May 28, 2014 - 21:35

    Asbestos scare...This was the first incident the town administrator has been made aware of ...Umm? Funny way to put it... word on the street that the old Bond Theater was possibly an asbestos ridden building seemed to be pretty common knowledge street level. When I first saw the Compass photo story back around April 23, and observed the firemen on scene appearing not to be wearing any breathing apparatus, I posted an immediate comment in the Compass on the story, complementing the brave fireman and cautioned, then, that the building may have contained asbestos, so wear a breathing apparatus. I think, maybe, in the time of Mr. Invisible, and the government department that he was head of were maybe pretty much aware of the problem…and, talk and complaints about the asbestos may have surfaced back then, even. Umm… funny town administrator seems to plead innocence on that one. She got her nose into everything else. After all, there must be a long thick file showing the numerous permits issued and renovations done to that building, etc., etc. Anyways, a bit late now. I hope none of the boys, or townsfolk downwind of the fire on that day suffer any ill health. A joint data bank asbestos inventory, along with other hazardous materials for the CBN area should be considered and shared among the various fire departments, as the boys from the other towns sometimes come to help to put the fire out… I don’t think anyone else came that day from the Village or Harbour Grace… Maybe they knew about the asbestos… just joking! Bye the way, did the Town get the earls to clean up that possible contaminated ground site that was left behind from the old abandoned meal plant on the Lower South Side yet?

    • Tim Thistle
      May 29, 2014 - 10:08

      Selective Memory but the statements made, you are not much of an individual. You said you made a comment in the online forum, but never had the sense to call the Town or firehall to report such things. What a person you are. You know everyone does not have the itme to sit and wait for a comment to come up, so they can respond. Yet you can sit at home, hide behind a fake name, throw out insulting comments and watch as others around you are possibly in danger. Let me guess you have the answers to everything on the go, lol