Following a complaint to WorkSafeBC, waste asbestos drywall will no longer be accepted at the Whistler Transfer Station (WTS) after Oct. 31.
The complaint was in regards to how asbestos drywall is being handled at the transfer station, which is managed by Carney's Waste Systems for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).
An inspection by WorkSafeBC on Aug. 15 found that, while there are procedures in place to handle asbestos drywall, they did not match the activities taking place at the WTS.
"The current procedures indicate that any suspect asbestos containing gypsum is not allowed in the transfer station; however, that brought by homeowners or mixed in with the mixed debris pile may be asbestos containing gypsum," the report read.
"The procedures must be updated to reflect current operating practices."
A follow-up inspection report dated Sept. 14 found the WTS to be in compliance.
But the incident reports at the WTS raise some concerns, said Lee Loftus of the BC Insulators union.
"I'm always concerned — as a 40-year asbestos worker — to see workers continue to be exposed to asbestos in any work environment," Loftus said. "That concerns me because I know what the end outcome is after many years of exposure, and it's not healthy, and often it leads to death."
Asbestos exposure is now the leading cause of workplace fatalities in British Columbia, Loftus said, and it often takes decades for the diseases to show themselves.
In the case of the WTS, it's hard to know exactly how much asbestos exposure there has been, because "there's been no workplace monitoring," Loftus said, but the exposures for anyone working in that environment would be enough to cause concern.
"They should register themselves both with their doctors and with WorkSafe," he said.
Drywall installed prior to 1990 may have asbestos in it, as the tape and joint compound used prior to then sometimes contained asbestos, explained Gillian Woodward, manager of transportation and waste management with the RMOW, in a report to council on Oct. 4.
"This asbestos-containing material is safe if you leave it intact, but if you start to disturb it or damage it, like you would when you were doing a reno, then asbestos fibres can be released into the air and they can be breathed in by the person who has been exposed," Woodward said.
Disposal, handling and transportation of asbestos waste drywall is regulated by the Environmental Management Act, the Hazardous Material Act and the Occupational Health and Safety regulations under WorkSafeBC, Woodward explained.
There would be significant capital costs involved if the WTS were to continue to accept asbestos drywall.
"We would have to create a secure area so the public could not just wander in to where the material was being held, there would have to be attendants, they would have to go through the hazardous material training, they would have to potentially be available at all times to be able to receive the waste," Woodward said, adding that a review of other transfer stations found that many are taking the same route that Whistler is now taking in not accepting the drywall.
There are also questions around how the material would be transported, as a special licence is now required to move it.
"So public and commercial businesses who start to encounter this hazardous material would need to ensure it was handled and disposed of per the provincial regulations," Woodward said.
There is currently only one asbestos abatement company in Whistler — Asbestos Free Whistler — owned by contractor Steve St. Arnaud.
The rules around asbestos work are stringent, St. Arnaud explained, requiring special ventilation systems, fit-tested masks and hazmat suits for workers, special permits for transportation, and more.
With the WTS no longer accepting the drywall, St. Arnaud said the biggest change to his operations will be a cost increase, as the material gets more expensive to transport.
St. Arnaud said he wrote a letter to the RMOW on behalf of local contractors asking for them to find a way to keep accepting the drywall in Whistler.
"There's hundreds of houses in Whistler that are going to be renovated in the next few years, and there are dozens of contractors like me that are going to be doing it, and we really could use that facility in our own town instead of having to quadruple our price and call in the city," he said.
While regulations have been in place for some time, and the health risks associated with asbestos exposure have been known for years, St. Arnaud said there are still contractors who blatantly ignore the regulations.
"I've been banging my head against the wall for years now," he said. "I tell people what's involved, and they just blow me off and they do it illegally."
But as the regulations stiffen and awareness ramps up, St. Arnaud will likely find himself ahead of the curve.
"The reason I formed this business is because it's going to be a tidal wave," he said. "It obviously didn't come this year, but it probably is going to come next year."
Ottawa promised in last year's election campaign that it would ban the use of asbestos in Canada, but so far has been slow to act.
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