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Union wants to know more about its post office buildings

by Keith Corcoran

 COUNTY - The union representing Bridgewater postal workers says it would prefer to hear from Canada Post about asbestos problems before they are discovered during repair jobs.

 "Sadly, as a union, we're unable to act proactively in these situations, since Canada Post keeps all the information regarding its buildings," said a letter to a reporter from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers national office in Ottawa.

 National health and safety representative Serge Champoux signed the note, which is dated February 20.

 The union's letter is in response to a December 23, 2008, story in this newspaper about the discovery of asbestos insulation found inside the Bridgewater post office on King Street. The local union representative did not return a phone message at the time requesting comment.

 Mr. Champoux writes that many union members work in buildings and offices across Canada of which some are decades old.

 "Unfortunately some of them are rather outdated or in dismal condition," he said, noting boiler pipe insulation, caulking, acoustic cap tiles or vinyl floor tiling can house a building's asbestos.

 At least 15 workers did not report to work at the Bridgewater post office last December 18 because of health and safety concerns, a day after asbestos material was found during ceiling plaster repairs associated with a weekend water leak.

 Canada Post determined conditions were fine after launching its own investigation. Air-quality tests conducted by a Dartmouth-based environmental firm contracted by the federal Crown corporation indicated the air inside the building was safe. The material was removed and repairs completed.

 The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation website states asbestos poses health risks only when fibres are in the air that people breathe but prolonged exposure to the fibres may still bring health risks, such as when asbestos-containing products break down.

 Mr. Champoux said the union "takes its members' health seriously and takes an unequivocal zero-tolerance position on asbestos, that is, there can be no acceptable exposure limit to asbestos or asbestos fibres for its members."

 Canada Post says it also takes health and safety very seriously and that was demonstrated in Bridgewater by removing the material that could have presented a risk to its employees, spokeswoman Geneviève Latour said.

 "Unless it is brought to our attention through maintenance work, for instance, we do not necessarily know about the presence of asbestos insulation in our buildings," she said, adding Canada Post both owns and rents buildings.

 If there are doubts or concerns raised, Ms Latour said testing is conducted with the help of an external firm "and we take actions based on the results."

 No mail was damaged as a result of the leak but there was a temporary delivery delay on December 18.

posted on 03/10/09
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