Anx­ious about as­bestos

The Compass - - OPINION - — Terry Roberts

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.

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