Seven federal buildings in Hamilton contain asbestos, according to data from the newly-released Canadian National Asbestos Inventory.

The carcinogen is present in these local buildings:

  • The four Standard Life Centre buildings, 120 King St. W
  • The Robert Thomson Building, 110 King St.
  • An office at 1550 Upper James St.
  • The Burlington Lift Bridge, Eastport Drive

According to the list, all of the buildings have an "asbestos management plan" in place, except for the office on Upper James.

The inventory also shows asbestos in nearby Brantford at buildings at 58-70 Dalhousie E. and an office in Burlington at 3027 Harvester Rd.

The government's major property owner, Public Services and Procurement Canada (formerly Public Works), has developed the National Asbestos Inventory, which lists all the buildings owned or leased by the department and indicates whether or not they contain asbestos.

For more than a decade, public health, political and labour groups have called for a national public registry of buildings that contain asbestos — a known carcinogen.

In April, asbestos use was banned in new construction of government buildings. Cleanup is handled on a case-by-case basis.

"Having a public registry puts pressure on the employer — in this case, the federal public service — to ensure that they do comply with existing laws and regulations. I think that's very much a positive step," said Denis St-Jean, national health and safety officer with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

Though asbestos in buildings is not necessarily dangerous on its own, it becomes a problem when the fibre is disturbed.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, asbestos fibres are easily inhaled, and can cause fibrotic lung disease and changes in the lining of the chest cavity.

Long-term inhalation of asbestos also increases the risk of lung cancer.

Quebec Asbestos Town 20160825

Francesco Spertini holds a chuck of asbestos with his bare hands at the now closed Jeffrey mine Wednesday, August 10, 2016 in Asbestos, Que. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Sometimes, contractors, electricians, plumbers, custodians, firefighters and cable installers unknowingly disrupt pipes, walls, ceilings and other materials that contain the toxic fibre.

While building managers are supposed to flag the existence of asbestos on the property, those notifications are not always accessible.

Public Services and Procurement Canada says any building it owns or leases must have an asbestos management plan in place, but some of the buildings on its new list lack a detailed description of where asbestos-containing materials can be found.

That's a worrying limitation, said St-Jean.

"It's about how much detail you should have on that list. Here, all you have is a listing of all the buildings," St-Jean said.

"If the hazard is present, not only does the worker have a right to know about that hazard, but I think the public — if they do have access to that building — should know that there's a hazard in that building."

Public Services says it will work with landlords to ensure asbestos management plans are developed in the coming months.