Homeless in Vancouver: Not Andromeda Strain?
A friend of mine insists not—“It’s probably just asbestos,” he says.
He explained that the building in question, on the corner of Alder Street and West Broadway, was old—from the ’60s.
The ceiling tiles were off and the two workers I saw through the window at 11:30 p.m. one night recently were wearing those suits because they were most likely removing original asbestos insulation wrapping the water pipes. Or it could have been the ceiling tiles themselves that contained asbestos.
Canada’s asbestos mines—all located in Quebec—have been preeminent world suppliers of the amazingly useful and dangerous mineral fibre for well over a century. That trade has radically diminished as asbestos fibre has been clearly linked to lung diseases and cancers such as mesothelioma.
One problem with asbestos products is how “friable” or crumbly they can be. This means they can release asbestos fibres into the air if they are damaged or disturbed.
The other problem is the common use of the stuff as a fireproof insulator in countless manufactured building materials well into the 1990s. This makes it one of the more common hazardous materials people can come into contact with every day.
An inconvenient and costly truth
Asbestos use in construction began in the decades before the turn of the 20th Century; it peaked in the 1970s, and in Canada didn’t end until the early 1990s. We’re talking an almost incalculable number of affected structures. Whether in the course of renovations or demolitions, all that asbestos will have to be removed and disposed of.
Asbestos removal or “abatement” is going to be a big business for the foreseeable future. Cities like Vancouver have strict rules concerning its identification, handling, and disposal. For many building owners and the contractors they hire, these rules are one more costly corner they can try to cut.
Imagine having to use full hazmat suits with breathing gear just to change some ceiling tiles.