British Columbia

Too many contractors aren't removing asbestos properly, says B.C. Building Trades Council

With 2018 asbestos ban on the horizon, a federally mandated approach to remove and dispose material will be complicated, according to abatement advocates

With 2018 asbestos ban on horizon, coming up with plans to remove and dispose of the material will be tricky

Asbestos abatement certification is lacking in British Columbia, according to the B.C. Building Trades Council. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

The federal government has ordered a ban on asbestos by 2018, but experts say coming up with a national approach for removing and disposing of the hazardous materials will be complicated — especially since many abatement contractors already cut corners.

According to Tom Sigurdson the executive director of the B.C.'s Building Trades Council, some "less-than-reputable" asbestos abatement contractors that are tasked with renovating homes and offices are not using proper procedures.

"Some contractors just don't want to pay the additional cost of doing it properly," he told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's BC Almanac. "They don't want to provide the protective clothing that's required or the face masks."

There is currently no provincially mandated certification for asbestos abatement contractors in B.C. The lack of provincial oversight challenges the health of workers in the industry, according to Sigurdson

"For some people that are not properly certified in asbestos abatement, they don't know any different. They just think they're going in and doing a simple demolition — and it's not just a simple demolition."

Asbestos is one of the leading causes of death among workers in the country, linked to over 2,000 deaths per year. Contact with asbestos can lead to terminal diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

"This is a great concern of ours, because they're exposing workers and everyone in the community and families as well," he said.

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

Lack of provincial oversight

According to independent labour consultant Larry Stoffman, the federal government has taken a strong first step towards rectifying the asbestos problem. But there's still a long way to go, especially in B.C.

"We certify people for industrial first aid, but not to remove a potent carcinogen like asbestos — it makes absolutely no sense. Not only is the homeowner at risk, but the workers are at risk," he said.

Stoffman says he's part of a lobbying effort directed at the provincial government to develop a registry of certified abatement contractors. He says the province has expressed interest.

"We would like to see that brought forward, and we're working with WorksafeBC to do that."

With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Too many contractors aren't removing asbestos properly, says BC Trades Council