January 15th, 2021

City’s enforcement limited for asbestos regulations

By Kalinowski, Tim on February 13, 2020.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


The City of Lethbridge is asking those contemplating any kind of renovation, construction or demolition project on their property to first contemplate the risk of asbestos exposure before taking any steps.

“Houses pre-1985 generally have some form of asbestos,” says City of Lethbridge building inspection services manager Kerry Crump; “whether that’s in the drywall, mud, ducting or things like that. Anything more post-1990 is a little more relaxed, but there is asbestos in a lot of buildings out there right now.”

“It’s important to note when asbestos is left undisturbed it is not dangerous,” he adds. “If you just leave it alone, it won’t hurt you. As soon as you start to tinker with it and disturb it the fibres can be released.”

Asbestos is a well-known carcinogen which was widely used in many new-home builds for insulation purposes up until the 1980s. There are provisions for its safe removal set out in the Alberta Safety Codes Act, but Crump admits the City has no real ability to enforce these provisions; especially when construction or demolition projects are undertaken without proper permits.

“We understand there is construction happening out there every day,” he states. “People are going to be doing work without permits. We generally catch them at a later date, but voluntary compliance is a struggle with us all the time. No matter what phase of the construction.”

To that end, Crump consulted with local firms which specialize in asbestos removal and abatement last September to see if there was anything the City could do differently in its bylaws or building permits.

“From a legislative point of view we can’t do much of anything,” he admits. “We (at building inspection services) don’t have any legislation based on asbestos abatement under the (Safety Codes) act.”

That is not to say the talks weren’t constructive in other ways, says Crump.

The City has been able to tidy up its demolition permit application forms to raise greater awareness of the risks of asbestos, and also the contractor’s or property owner’s responsibilities regarding safe removal and disposal found within provincial occupational health and safety regulations.

“They (these consultations with industry partners) have addressed the demolition permit process,” he says. “I think it has brought an awareness to our industry, and they understand our hands are tied as a municipality and they, as professionals, are the subject-matter experts when it comes to asbestos abatement. We rely heavily on them if they are contacted by a contractor they will do a good job.”

While the City can’t always properly regulate the determined do-it-yourselfer, or the off-the-books contractor, Crump hopes those undertaking demolition projects take note of the dangers of asbestos and do the right thing when encountering it.

“I would like to encourage the citizens of Lethbridge, if they are contemplating any kind of a renovation project, construction project or any demolition work at all, please come and see us and we’ll discuss the concern not only with asbestos, but other hazardous materials as well like lead paint and things like that,” he says.

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