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Possible asbestos find grinds work to a halt

ESTEVAN (Canadian OH&S News)


ESTEVAN (Canadian OH&S News)

A rebuilding project at a Saskatchewan power station has come to a standstill after the possible discovery of asbestos.

SaskPower’s Boundary Dam power station, in Estevan, Sask., has been offline since February to prepare it for a new integrated carbon capture and storage project. But on July 9, the company confirmed that work had halted because contractor crews had come across a pre-existing substance in the area which could potentially be asbestos.

The Boundary Dam unit project is unique in that it aims to produce reliable, long-term clean baseload electricity while enhancing provincial oil production and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by one million tonnes per year, notes information from the company’s website.

Heather Johnson, a spokesperson from SaskPower, said that after the substance was discovered, employees and contractors were evacuated, the work was stopped and the area isolated.

“The SaskPower safety program has protocols in place to manage and control asbestos events. We have proactively remediated and encapsulated asbestos-containing material at our power generating facilities and have spent millions of dollars over the last 30 years to ensure the work area is safe for employees and contractors,” Johnson said in an email.

Noting that the health and safety of all employees, contractors and the public is paramount, Johnson added that during the clean-up process, contract workers with the required qualifications and competencies will be hired to perform clean-up activities.

“Testing is ongoing, but SaskPower is treating this incident as though the material contains asbestos,” she said. “We will continue to follow proper procedures and standards, including extensive clean-up.”

Johnson added that as of July 9, air sample testing indicated that the air quality was “favourable,” but that the testing is ongoing to determine whether the substance does contain asbestos.

According to Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety (LRWS), inhaling asbestos fibres can have serious health repercussions. That includes a number of chronic, irreversible and life-threatening occupational diseases, such as lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer), and asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs).

To help mitigate those risks, LRWS has released a guideline for the safe handling of asbestos. The first step is to identify and create an inventory of all asbestos-containing material, and then to inspect all such material for damage. Finally, staff must undergo thorough training, which will eliminate or control exposure to the substance.

In late April, Saskatchewan became the first province in the country to make asbestos reporting a mandatory requirement for public buildings, in the hopes that a public registry would increase awareness and protect worker safety.

SaskPower estimated that the clean-up will take until mid-July to complete, and noted that the LRWS’s Occupational Health and Safety department had been notified. 

Copyright (c) 2013 The Canadian Press