Asbestos risk from demolitions must be addressed

Op-ed: Asbestos Risk from demolitions must be addressed, Josh Towsley, Assistant Business Manager (The Province, Apr 27, 2016)

The recent real-estate price boom has a lot of alarming aspects, but the most alarming is not to do with prices, losing our heritage or increasing the footprint of homes. The most dangerous aspect of our real-estate bubble is the health hazards presented by the homes being demolished.Josh Towsley

Most people don’t realize that asbestos is in virtually every home built between 1920 and 1990 and must be safely removed prior to demolition of a structure. All too often a demolition permit is issued with the house crushed in a day with the wreckage removed from site in a steel garbage bin. No assessments are conducted, no asbestos abatement performed. But exposures don’t stop at the property line.

This isn’t just a worker issue; it is a community issue. When a home is demolished in your neighbourhood without proper precautions being taken, your family could be exposed to potentially dangerous levels of asbestos.

Just one asbestos exposure can cause irreparable harm to your lungs. It is not acceptable to allow these practices to continue. Governments have a key role to play in the regulation of the demolition and asbestos abatement industry.

Asbestos is the No. 1 killer of workers in B.C. Every year on April 28 we mourn workers who have lost their lives. This year, we mourn for another 54 workers who died of asbestosis or mesothelioma as a result of exposure. This brings the number to 242 in the last five years.

For the past several years, WorkSafeBC has identified contractors within the asbestos-abatement industry that don’t comply with health and safety regulations, regularly putting their employees at risk. These contractors prey on young workers who don’t understand the risks involved in their work. Often their symptoms don’t show up for many, many years.

The City of Vancouver has communicated with WorkSafeBC the location of all demolition permits for a few years now and other municipalities must follow their lead.

In light of the recent legal cases that have identified employers with over 200 WorkSafeBC order violations, it is time to properly regulate the demolition and asbestos abatement industry with contractor licensing in safely handling asbestos and other hazardous material for all demolition and environmental remediation contractors.

Josh Towsley is president of the Vancouver, New Westminster and District Building and Construction Trades Council, chairman of the B.C. Building Trades Occupational Health and Safety Committee and business representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115.

Op-ed: Asbestos Risk, Josh Towsley, Assistant Business Manager