A stop work order was posted Tuesday at a property on Green Mountain Road where an apparent recycling operation has sparked health concerns.
“Refuse site may be cross-contaminated with asbestos-containing materials,” states the handwritten order from a WorkSafeBC officer.
“All areas with parts of demolished buildings must not be accessed or disturbed.”
WorkSafeBC didn’t respond to a request for additional comment Tuesday
The site is part of the Penticton Indian Reserve, but belongs to locatee owner Adam Eneas, who got stuck last year with a massive trash pile – estimated to contain a volume equivalent to four Olympic-sized swimming pools – when the waste-collection company that was leasing the property went bankrupt.
Eneas didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The garbage, left behind by Appleton Waste, was simply a lingering source of community concern until last week, when workers using heavy equipment began moving the material to a different part of the property, creating clouds of dust in the process.
But the head of an engineering firm that has volunteered to help with the cleanup believes safety fears are overblown.
“It seems WorkSafeBC has been set off by the information alarming them of the site potentially having asbestos, which isn’t supported by any information we are aware of,” Ecora Engineering president Kelly Sherman said in one of several emails to The Herald on Tuesday.
“We will further assess this and provide the needed information to enable WorkSafeBC to rest assured that the health and safety of those involved are paramount. There is currently no activity on the site so WorkSafeBC’s choice to stop work has no impact – except for stopping one engineer tech from doing a diligence check today.”
Sherman suggested the pile, which Ecora staff believes weighs about 3,400 tonnes and consists mainly of construction and demolition debris, is “low risk” because there are strict safety regulations governing the handling of such materials.
“Demolition works that generated the material require municipal permits that are only issued after hazardous building material assessments and any necessary abatement are completed. Further, local demolition contractors are required to conduct those assessments under WorkSafeBC rules. The presence of hazardous materials in the demolition waste is not expected,” said Sherman.
“Even given the low risk, our recommendations have always been for all reasonable precautions to be taken, which in this stage of the work include wetting the waste as to prevent airborne dust being generated from the pile material.”
Ecora’s assessment stands in sharp contrast to one delivered last year by another consulting firm to the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
Sperling Hansen Associates was hired by the RDOS to study the matter after Eneas asked through the PIB for a break on tipping fees so he could dispose of the waste at the Campbell Mountain Landfill.
The company estimated the pile’s weight at 5,000 tonnes, and suggested it consists primarily of asphalt shingles and baled recyclables. But due to the unknown nature of the debris, the company recommended everything be treated carefully as though it contained asbestos.
Based on that report, plus fears it would set a precedent, the RDOS board balked at helping Eneas. That’s where things stood until last week.
After the first round of news stories about work at the site Friday, Ecora jumped into the fray publicly on Saturday, when it issued a statement explaining it had volunteered the time of its staff, whose wages were being partially covered by the federal COVID-19 wage subsidy, to come up with a way to benefit the entire community by helping Eneas deal with the waste pile.
A draft version of the four-page plan, dated May 22, calls for the material to be spread out and sorted into eight different types of recyclables that can then be hauled away and given new life.
Ecora recommends treated wood products, asbestos-containing materials, household trash and non-recyclable hazardous waste be sent to a landfill. All that’s then expected to remain on site for “composting” is untreated lumber, weathered cardboard and paper, and non-chlorinated plastics.
“On completion, the compost area will be covered, graded and landscaped as to tie in correctly with the development plan” for the property, the Ecora document states.
Sherman said he understands Eneas has been in discussions with the PIB since Friday, when the band issued a statement that warned council had approved a cease-and-desist letter against Eneas.
The PIB did not respond to a follow-up request for comment Tuesday.
As a locatee owner, Eneas holds a certificate of possession over the land that allows him to use and occupy it. But despite the existence of the certificate, which was approved by a past PIB council, legal title to the land remains with the Crown.
A spokesperson for the B.C. Environment Ministry said Tuesday the agency is aware of work at the site, which is under federal jurisdiction, and has been told the recycling operation was suspended by the PIB due to dust concerns.
Sherman said Ecora has assisted with community-focused environmental projects in other communities and intends to stand by Eneas.
“We hope that this can get momentum, and groups can engage in addressing various components of the plan, whether this is government funding, waived tipping fees, people support, etc.” said Sherman.
“If the parties align and chose to be part of the solution, there is a much-reduced burden on all.”