Residents worry about asbestos after row house fire in Nepean

Some residents who lost their homes in a Nepean row house fire earlier this month are concerned items being retrieved from the wreckage and returned to them could be contaminated with asbestos.

Residents want answers from Minto after receiving items from inside fire damaged units

Melinda Munoz and her husband Jacek Kitowicz said they're worried items returned to them after the fire are contaminated with asbestos. (CBC News)

Some residents displaced by a large fire in Nepean earlier this month are concerned that items being retrieved from the wreckage and returned to them could be contaminated with asbestos.

They also said Minto, the property owner, isn't doing enough to warn people about the potential dangers.

On Wednesday, Ottawa Fire Services held a fire prevention seminar for residents affected by the fire, but once the formal presentation wrapped up talk quickly turned to asbestos.

"I'm concerned that I'm just playing with asbestos, let's put it that way," said one resident, who was able to get her laptop.
Melinda Munoz lived in one of the units destroyed by fire on March 12. (CBC News)

Residents Melinda Munoz and her husband Jacek Kitowicz said they're so worried about asbestos they haven't brought the items returned to them inside the unit they're currently living in.

"Everything's covered in fibers, everything's covered in black sludge, ash, soaked with water, and you can see all the fibers of the insulation," Munoz said.

On March 12, the fire tore through the family's unit along with 31 others in the row house complex on Northview Road.

In the days that followed, Minto hired a fire emergency restoration contractor to help residents retrieve emergency items. The company's website said residents would be supplied with up to two boxes for possessions that the contractor "notes as safe and salvageable."

Harvey Patterson took this photo of flames coming from the row house complex on Northview Road. (Courtesy Harvey Patterson)

Contractor made aware of asbestos

Minto's regional manager was at Wednesday's meeting and the contractor was made aware of the asbestos before going inside to retrieve items.
Minto informed the contractor about the asbestos before work began to retrieve items from the fire ruins, said Derek Rider, Minto's regional manager. (CBC News)

"We provided the asbestos report, but we don't have the authority to tell them what equipment to use and what not to use," said Derek Rider.

"They have to again abide by the Ministry of Labour guidelines."

Kitowicz was near tears by the end of the meeting and said the answer from Minto wasn't sufficient.

"As far as I'm concerned they should have taken responsibility and said, look, we really screwed up and in the future we will make certain to warn residents we are providing extraction services for your items but be aware," said Kitowicz.

Rider said all residents were informed the building had asbestos when they moved in but Kitowicz and Munoz said they had no idea until they recently signed a new lease with Minto in a similar building across the street.

On Thursday Minto posted an update on the company's website that said residents can "rest assured that the items retrieved and returned to you have been treated by [the contractor] comply with safety standards and are therefore safe to use."