Asbestos spilled in building connected to new Winnipeg police HQ

An asbestos spill in the 10-storey office tower connected to the new Winnipeg police headquarters Thursday has the union representing officers concerned.

Asbestos was spilled in an office tower connected to the new police headquarters on Thursday

There was an asbestos spill Thursday night inside a building connected to the new police headquarters, the Winnipeg Police Service says. (Google)

An asbestos spill in the 10-storey office tower connected to the new Winnipeg police headquarters Thursday has the union representing officers concerned. About half of the compliment of officers have moved into the new building.

The Winnipeg Police Service said the asbestos spill happened Thursday evening during some construction work. City of Winnipeg safety staff are investigating. 

A police spokesperson said the Fire Department was called and all precautions were taken after the accident.

George Van Mackelbergh, vice-president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said he is worried about the headquarter's safety for members.

"We are alarmed at this point. We do have workplace health and safety, so we are waiting for the report. My initial indication is our people weren't involved, but if this is loose asbestos and the ventilation wasn't shut off right away, we have a concern that it spread through the building," said Mackelbergh.

The reconstruction of the police headquarters is at least $75 million over budget and the subject of a massive fraud investigation. RCMP are investigating allegations that invoices were inflated or manipulated.

"Given the amount of money that the City of Winnipeg has paid to have this [building] refitted, we are certainly surprised to see that would happen," said Van Mackelbergh of the asbestos incident.

Van Mackelbergh told CBC News there should be more investigation of the police headquarters building to make sure no contaminants remain.

"If something like that can happen, we are wondering about core samples of cement in the basement, because when Canada Post had that building it was basically a warehouse with diesel engines running in it. I can tell you, in the United States any time you refit a building like that, there should be core samples on the cement to see how much pollutants are in it, so yes, we are concerned," he said.

A police spokesperson said no one was injured by the asbestos spill.

If inhaled, asbestos can cause cancer and other diseases, including: asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer, according to Health Canada. 

CBC News was made aware of some work being done at the building that included the removal of asbestos and asked the city of Winnipeg for details. A spokesperson provided the following background:

"Asbestos abatement work is being done by Municipal Accommodations within the Office Tower (266 Graham). This is in preparation for a new exit corridor as required for the skywalk. This is not part of the WPS Headquarters Redevelopment project."

The office tower is a financial liability to the city. Staff and councillors are looking for a solution.

The tower is only 10 per cent occupied, and if it remains in its current condition and occupancy state, it will create an annual loss for the city of $2.1 million. City staff presented a report to the property and development committee suggesting the 10-story building may need an estimated $20-million upgrade to make it a more attractive to renters or buyers.