The early months of a new asbestos registry in Saskatchewan are proving problematic as many institutions required to provide reports have failed to do so and others have submitted reports over two decades old.
Jesse Todd, whose stepfather Howard Willems died of mesothelioma after a 31-year career as a building inspector, pushed for the legislation along with the New Democratic Party (NDP) and occupational health advocates. Passed in April of 2013, the legislation known as “Howard’s Law” requires the provincial government, Crown corporations, health regions and facilities, and school divisions to post information about asbestos to the public. Even with a grace period allotted by the law many of these institutions have yet to comply.
Speaking to the Leader Post, Todd, who also serves as the chairman of the Saskatchewan Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, said:
“This is definitely not what we’re going for. I understand things are not always going to be perfect right out of the gate, but this is far from even acceptable at this point.”
Howard’s Law is the first of its kind in Canada. Sameema Haque, manager for occupational hygiene with the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Standards, said that the process will improve. He called the effort “a work in progress” and added, “It’s not going to be to its ideal state where we want to (have a) clear, concise, effective and easily accessible registry overnight.”
The current system has produced a “mishmash” of data which together does not provide a clear view of the dangers people face. Todd called the rocky start “an advertisement the government is not enforcing its own legislation.” He argues that the agencies that have yet to respond are showing that they do not take the issue seriously:
As of Tuesday, the registry’s website contained no information at all from five of the province’s school divisions and one of the 13 health authorities. Two of those unreported school divisions are Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, and the Prairie Spirit School Division, which surrounds Saskatoon.
Some school division and health region reports say certain buildings have never been assessed for the presence of asbestos. For example, 15 of 56 Saskatoon Public School buildings built before the 1990s have no asbestos inspection data. Light of Christ Catholic School Division says it knows of no asbestos in any of its buildings, and will know more by the end of August. SaskTel reports most of its buildings haven’t been assessed for asbestos.
Some agencies filed consultants’ technical reports directly to the ministry rather than summarizing the data. The Saskatoon Health Region’s report on the 1955 portion of Royal University Hospital alone includes 205 pages of data.
Some reports include information about people’s risk of exposure to the asbestos, and others do not.
Opposition labour critic David Forbes also labeled the registry a disappointment. He noted that the safety precautions are being taken on behalf of the general public, not just those in the buildings.
“We were hoping and expecting something that was much more user friendly, both for the public, parents, people potentially curious about the public buildings, but also contractors.”
This inforgraphic highlights the health dangers related to asbestos.