Nova Scotia

Worker fined for not protecting tenants from asbestos

A worker at the Cape Breton Island Housing Authority has been fined $1,000 for failing to protect tenants in Whitney Pier apartments from asbestos.

A worker at the Cape Breton Island Housing Authority has been fined $1,000 for failing to protect tenants in Whitney Pier apartments from asbestos.

According to a court decision released Tuesday, James Della Valle did not inform his supervisor about the asbestos risk and failed to follow up to ensure the asbestos was removed.

Della Valle was the health and safety co-ordinator for the housing authority in October 2005, when a worker found what appeared to be asbestos in some insulation that fell from the ceiling of a housing unit in a Sydney complex.

Della Valle took a sample of the material for testing, which confirmed the material in the attic was asbestos. Della Valle took that information to two maintenance supervisors and told them what actions needed to be taken.

However, tenants were not immediately informed of the asbestos. It wasn't until six months later, when an outside contractor contacted provincial environment officials, that the housing authority took action. It sealed and in some cases removed the asbestos in 80 housing units.

Provincial court Judge Peter Ross wrote in his Sept. 14 decision that it was "astounding" that the head of the housing authority, Joan McKeough, was "kept in the dark" about the asbestos for a full six months after it was first discovered.

Ross said Della Valle should have taken decisive action to protect fellow employees and the tenants of the buildings by contacting his supervisor with the information about the asbestos and by following up with the maintenance workers to see whether they had taken any action.

Asbestos was once widely used in construction and has been linked to cancer. It is dangerous when fibres are airborne and people inhale them.

No airborne asbestos was found in the apartment complex.

Della Valle was fined $1,000.

In 2009, the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, which oversees public housing, was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine for not acting quickly enough to protect tenants and workers.

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