Email Response:

Hi Kym,

OK, first and most important thing is: do you think you or the folks living there may have been exposed? Have you seen any asbestos? Or has somebody told you that asbestos was seen when they were getting the building ready for people to move in? Are they currently doing any renovations that could possibly disturb the asbestos?

ANSWERS:

Thank you so much Alison, these questions are perfect.

 “do you think you or the folks living there may have been exposed?”
Answer: Two residents seem to beleive they have seen it and yes, if it was asbestos they were exposed.
“Have you seen any asbestos?”
Answer: Not myself that I know of.
 “Or has somebody told you that asbestos was seen when they were getting the building ready for people to move in?”
Answer: Yes.
” Are they currently doing any renovations that could possibly disturb the asbestos?”
Answer: Quite possible Yes, they definitely were when they were first pushed into the building in order to get them out of public eye, Rich Coleman made this happen. BC Housing runs it and I understand they may have a not so good record in Vancouver re: Health in buildings.

Second, I have to say that this is not my area of expertise. I think it’s probably a good idea to contact WorkSafe BC as the City rep recommended.

I looked up the health risks of asbestos on the Govt of Canada website: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/healthy-living-vie-saine/environment-environnement/air/contaminants/asbestos-amiante-eng.php#a2

And found this info:
“There are no significant health risks if materials containing asbestos in your home are:

– tightly bound in products and are in good condition
– sealed behind walls and floorboards
-isolated in an attic
– left undisturbed

More info:

How can you be exposed to asbestos?

You can be exposed to asbestos when a home or building is being renovated or demolished. Small asbestos fibres can be released into the air when:

– disturbing or removing insulation that contains asbestos, including insulation around hot water pipes and tanks
– removing or disturbing roofing shingles and felt or siding containing asbestos
– sanding, breaking apart or scraping vinyl asbestos floor tiles
– breaking apart soundproofing ceiling tiles containing asbestos
– sanding or disturbing plaster containing asbestos, including acoustical plaster
– sawing, drilling or smoothing rough edges of asbestos materials
– sanding or scraping older surface treatments containing asbestos, such as: roofing compounds like tar paper, spackling, sealants, paint, putty, caulking, drywall

How do you reduce your risk of exposure?

In the home

You can reduce your risk of exposure by hiring a professional to test for asbestos before doing any:

– renovations or remodelling
– demolitions
– additions

If asbestos is found, hire a qualified asbestos removal specialist to get rid of it before beginning work. Avoid disturbing asbestos materials yourself. This increases the risk to your health and your family’s health. Check with your provincial and territorial workplace safety authorities to find out the qualifications or certifications needed in your area.

If you have vermiculite-based insulation in your attic, it may contain asbestos. To avoid exposure to asbestos fibres, do not disturb vermiculite-based attic insulation in any way or attempt to remove it yourself. Make sure:

– children are not allowed in the attic
– the attic is not used for storage or any other use
– professionals that are trained to handle asbestos are hired if you plan to remodel or renovate
– all cracks and holes in the ceiling of the rooms below the insulation are sealed
– caulking around light fixtures and the attic hatch is applied to prevent insulation from falling through

If you have vermiculite-based insulation in your attic, some may have fallen inside your walls over time. Therefore, you should seal cracks and holes with caulking around:

– window and door frames
– along baseboards
– around electrical outlets”

Kym, I hope this is helpful and I wish you good luck as you look into this!

Alison Koistra

Email response:

Hi Kym,

I can see why you’re pissed and upset, the wording in the City’s email is totally vague and leaves people with so much uncertainty. It’s unfair to leave people scared and unsure if they are living in a toxic place.

I don’t think the City of Victoria is saying there is asbestos in the building, I think they’re saying that they don’t know and don’t intend to find out. Which is outrageous but that’s true for all buildings before 1990 (so it applies to most people’s homes, office buildings, etc.).

The picture at the bottom of http://www.envirovac.com/residential-asbestos-removal gives some idea of how common asbestos can be in older buildings. As Alison identified from the federal government site, if things are left alone the risks are considered low enough for the government not to be obligated to do anything.

Here is the WorkSafe BC site on asbestos: https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/hazards-exposures/asbestos
From that page: “If you suspect asbestos is present, stop work immediately and have a qualified asbestos professional complete an asbestos survey. If asbestos is found, the law requires employers to hire a qualified abatement contractor to remove it. A qualified person must also certify that the worksite air is safe, following the completion of the asbestos removal work.”
So, the legal requirement to take action is only if asbestos is identified as present and not safely contained.
There is more on this at https://www.worksafebc.com/en/law-policy/occupational-health-safety/searchable-ohs-regulation/ohs-guidelines/guidelines-part-06 (look for “Requirement to conduct an asbestos risk assessment”)
And note that all this WorkSafe stuff applies only to the employer’s legal obligation to protect workers, it doesn’t cover residents.

I think Alison is right on to ask if there are currently renovations that could disturb asbestos that is likely in the building or if anyone has seen anything labelled as containing asbestos. If so I think (1) PHS staff could contact WorkSafe BC requesting they evaluate the safety of the building (WorkSafe will only do that for workers, not for residents) and (2) it would be good to talk with TAPS or a lawyer about whether there is something they can do on the resident side to push for a building evaluation (e.g., under section 32(1)(a) of the Residential Tenancy Act which says “A landlord must provide and maintain residential property in a state of decoration and repair that complies with the health, safety and housing standards required by law”).

PHS staff could also ask WorkSafe BC to do an air quality investigation even if there is no definite sign of asbestos. See pp. 24 onwards in https://www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/health-safety/books-guides/indoor-air-quality-a-guide-for-building-owners-managers-and-occupants
This would start as PHS management doing a walkthrough and then if PHS staff aren’t satisfied with that it could be escalated up as a complaint to WorkSafe to do an independent investigation. This happened in a building I worked in where staff were constantly sick with respiratory problems. WorkSafe did air quality control testing and ended up finding that there were no problems that past the legal threshold of what the employer was obligated to fix. The process took a long time to complete.

I hope this is helpful.

Best wishes,

Joshua

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