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Public Left Adrift on Ferry Asbestos Risk

BC Ferries still mum about exposure level on Queen of Burnaby.

By Andrew MacLeod 10 Jun 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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Queen of Burnaby serves Comox, Powell River.

The government-owned company that runs the provincial ferry system is yet to make a clear statement to the public about the risk from asbestos on one of its vessels.

On Monday The Tyee reported that the cafeteria on the Queen of Burnaby, the ferry in service between Comox and Powell River, had been closed while the company assesses how bad the problem is.

Confirmation did not, however, come from the ferry company, which that day posted a service notice on its website saying only that the cafeteria would be closed, but not explaining why.

B.C. Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall failed to respond to several messages from The Tyee on the subject, but she did talk to other media.

Vancouver radio station News 1130 quoted her saying, "The air test as well as the solid test has come back but a bit of debris we found has come back negative."

And the Victoria Times Colonist on Wednesday had her saying a pile of white dust the size of a dime had been spotted on the ship. "As a precaution, it was decided to shut down the area right away while we arranged for air sampling and analysis of the dust. Both results came back negative."

Asbestos present

Marshall's statements appeared to be at odds with a report a consultant wrote about the problem.

The June 4 asbestos risk assessment report for the Queen of Burnaby, obtained by The Province's Christina Montgomery, was written by Grant Rogers, the principal and senior occupational hygienist with North West Environmental Group Ltd..

"Results of confirmatory bulk sample testing... on a sample collected from the deckhead determined that the debris contains 60 [per cent] amosite asbestos," he wrote.

In an area where there is work planned, "Amosite fire proofing spray insulation is embedded within all mastics on bulkheads and deckheads."

Rogers concluded, "The fact that the material tested positive for such a high concentration of amosite asbestos dictates that, as a precautionary measure, all debris should be considered asbestos containing... The loose debris will need to be removed from all surfaces including the top of deckhead tiles."

Also, "Based on the work procedures described by Westcor staff to be used on this project, the potential for exposure of workers and adjacent personnel to airborne asbestos fibres is high."

Inhaled asbestos fibres can cause various often fatal diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The Queen of Burnaby was built in 1965, a time when asbestos was commonly used in insulation and building materials because of its fire-resistant properties. It is not considered a human health hazard unless there are loose fibres.

Multiple tests

WorkSafe B.C. spokesperson Donna Freeman said there have been various tests done aboard the ferry and on material that came from it.

"The consultants' report you have is accurate," she wrote in an email. "The areas in the ceiling of the ferry (the cable tray) did test positive for asbestos."

But the testing continued on other areas. "There was additional testing conducted by the employer to determine if the asbestos had spread and these tests were negative," she said. "The employer conducted bulk sampling of insulation that had fallen on the back of the ceiling tiles and did air sampling of the cafeteria / galley area and both came back negative for asbestos."

Above the cafeteria's ceiling there are cables housed in a cable tray, she wrote. "There had been an asbestos removal in this area years ago, but it appears some of the asbestos may have vibrated off the insulation in the ceiling area and fallen into the electrical (cable) tray below. Testing in late April confirmed that to be the case."

WorkSafe B.C.'s officers continue to work with B.C. Ferries on the matter, she said.

Earlier in the week she had said, "The employer has taken the steps required when the potential presence of asbestos is suspected and is ensuring that staff and customers do not have access to the area in question... The areas of the vessel affected will remain closed, and access to the area prohibited until such time as a full assessment of the situation is conducted, and an asbestos abatement and clean up is conducted if the material is determined to be asbestos."

So Marshall is correct when she says some tests came back negative for asbestos. What's missing, however, is an explanation of why she's yet to confirm and discuss the tests that came back positive.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Transportation

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