Anxious about asbestos
If you were in Carbonear on April 23, you can certainly remember the drama that unfolded on Water Street when the storied Bond Theatre went up in flames in the middle of the afternoon.
It was one of the most stubborn and challenging fires faced by the Carbonear volunteer fire department in many years, and touched off a great deal of nostalgia as those familiar with the building experienced a flood of memories about the once-popular business.
It took several days for the site to cool down enough for crews to begin a cleanup. Part of that effort involved four Town of Carbonear municipal employees, who were tasked to clear debris from the sidewalk.
It was later discovered that some of the building materials used in the original construction of the building contained asbestos.
According to various Internet sites, asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre formerly used in buildings and structures. It was heavily mined for much of the last century because of its highly durable qualities.
In most of the developed world, including Canada, it is no longer used because it is a dangerous substance when the fibres are inhaled, and has been known to cause serious, chronic illnesses.
As such, extreme measures are required when buildings containing asbestos are demolished.
The incident in Carbonear raised concern among the four employees, and rightfully so. They were tasked — unknowingly at the time — to do a job in what many would argue were unsafe conditions.
Questions were raised, and town leaders, along with officials from the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission, became involved. Signs were erected at the site, warning of asbestos contamination, and the town sent letters to all four employees, advising they had been exposed to asbestos.
The employees were advised to see a doctor, and by late last week, it’s been learned that at least two had xrays completed on their respiratory system.
Thankfully, experts say it’s unlikely the short-term exposure will lead to any serious short- or long-term health issues. That should be a relief to the employees, and anyone else involved in the cleanup or the emergency response.
However, the incident exposed some shortcomings in the town’s procedures when it comes to dealing with potentially hazardous materials. That said, it’s hard not to be impressed with the town’s response, with a senior administrator describing the incident as an “eye-opener” and “an opportunity to complete further training in hazard recognition and to identify the possibility of such a hazard for future jobs.”
It’s a sure bet that similar situations in the future will be handled differently.