British Columbia

Tenants of Victoria apartment building worry about potential asbestos exposure

People who live in a Victoria apartment tower that is undergoing renovations are worried about risks to their health after WorksafeBC stopped work over concerns that asbestos has been disturbed.

'I'm just hoping that I have not been exposed,' says tenant Bill Appledorf

Bill Appledorf in the hallway of his apartment building where a WorkSafeBC inspection found material containing asbestos was disturbed. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

People who live in a Victoria apartment tower that is undergoing renovations are worried about health risks after WorksafeBC stopped work over concerns that asbestos has been disturbed.

A notice posted on the front entrance to 415 Michigan Street, in Victoria's James Bay neighbourhood, says work inside the 14-storey building has been halted after a Dec. 14 inspection found a ceiling texture coat in the building's hallways had been disturbed.

The notice at Regent Towers also says the ceiling coat that was disturbed is listed in the building's asbestos inventory as containing asbestos. 

While construction work has stopped inside the building, the situation has left tenants wondering if their health has been put at risk.

"I try not to think about it," said Bill Appledorf, whose apartment door is just metres away from one of the areas listed in the stop work order.

"Asbestos is a very nasty thing, I'm just hoping that I have not been exposed."

Asbestos fibres are dangerous if they become airborne. The known carcinogen is contained in tens of thousands of homes and buildings across the country that were built before 1990.

Lack of information

Appledorf says no one advised tenants to avoid areas of the building when the renovation work was stopped by WorkSafeBC, even though property management staff and even the mail carriers were no longer allowed into the building.

A spokesperson for WorkSafeBC said stop-work orders are posted in public areas to ensure workers and the public are aware of potentially hazardous situations.

But the agency said it is up to the employer to provide notification of any public safety issues that may result.

Nathalie Vazan, another resident at Regent Towers, said tenants are left wondering who is responsible for the health of people who are living in construction zones.

"If it is not safe, deadly or dangerous for workers, how can it be safe for us residents?" she said.

A Stop Work notice has been posted at the main entrance to the apartment building at 415 Michigan Street. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Air testing underway

A spokesperson for the company that owns the building, Starlight Investments, and the property manager, Devon Properties, says air testing started as soon as the stop work order was issued by WorkSafeBC.

"The most important thing is to get the air quality tested and to assure tenants that the building is safe," said Danny Roth.

Initial tests have come back negative for hazardous airborne asbestos fibres, Roth said, but more tests have been ordered to check every floor of the building.

Roth says no steps were taken to keep tenants out of the areas where asbestos may have been disturbed.

"I don't believe there was any suggestion that there was any immediate risk to anyone," he said.

Risk low, Island Health says

Island Health sent staff this week to assess the risk to people living in the building.

The health authority says it was not initially notified about the potential asbestos exposure, but investigated after receiving a complaint.

"At this point we don't feel like there is a high risk to the residents of the building and we will continue to follow up with WorkSafeBC to ensure the residents of the building are not put at increased risk," said Dr. Murray Fyfe, a medical health officer with Island Health.

"The residents wouldn't be spending as much time in a dusty environment as a worker would when a renovation is going on, but that doesn't mean that appropriate precautions should not take place."

The potential asbestos exposure at 415 Michigan Street also worries people in a neighbouring tower that is undergoing similar renovations.

Sean Clazie says a number of tenants have requested more information about where asbestos is contained in their building, and whether the dangerous substance is being handled properly during the current renovations, but they have not received a response.

"The disclosure is quite minimal as far as the risk to us tenants," he said. "Just looking for assurances, simple assurances."