Background

In response to the March 15th, 2019 fire at the Mackenzie Place high rise, the Chief Public Health Officer issued an order to the owner of the high rise on April 10th. The order restricted access to the high rise, and detailed the work that needed to be completed before an assessment could be done to determine if and when evacuees could access their apartments. The owner was ordered to obtain a qualified environmental professional to prepare a plan for assessment and remediation in order to prevent mould growth due to water damage, and to submit a report detailing the remediation work that had been done. When the order expired on May 14th, no report had been received and upon inspection it was clear that no remediation work had taken place and. In fact, the situation appeared to have worsened significantly. As a result, a new order was issued on May 17th.

This means that in the three months since the fire, many evacuees haven’t been able to collect all of their belongings from the high rise. While some access was granted soon after the fire, many evacuees either didn’t have enough time to retrieve their possessions, or couldn’t retrieve them because they’d have no place to store them. As a result, some evacuees who have been able to find permanent accommodations in the three months since the fire have been forced to either buy new furniture, dishes, cookware, and so on, or to go without.

Given that the owner of the high rise did not comply with the first order which could have allowed access to evacuees, and given that there is no guarantee that he plans to comply with the second order, I asked the Minister of Health and Social Services the following questions:

Questions & Responses

QUESTION: The owner of the high rise did not comply with the first order which could have allowed access to evacuees, and there is no guarantee that he will comply with the second order. Since we shouldn’t expect evacuees to wait forever to get access to their belongings, can you work with the Chief Public Health Officer and other relevant organizations to grant access to evacuees who need to retrieve their belongings as and when needed?

MINISTER’S RESPONSE: “The health risk/hazard the Chief Environmental Health Officer (EHO) and Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (OCPHO) are most concerned about is asbestos. Exposure to asbestos is dangerous and its potential health effects cannot be reversed. Asbestos exposure can cause cancer. Although some health impacts of asbestos require chronic exposure, there is data suggesting brief exposure can produce cancer.  Loose and broken ceiling texture materials, drywall, and wall board contained asbestos in testing done after the fire.  The order was issued to protect the public.

During an inspection of Mackenzie Place on May 14th the Chief EHO found that there were units with loose and broken ceiling texture materials, drywall and wall board with damage. Some hallways and flooring in public areas were also damaged.  The units (units 1 through 5) on each floor below the fire floor (floors 1- 10) had varying degrees of damaged walls, floors and ceilings.

Other hazards include mould and lead paint. Water and moist building materials were observed to have mould growing on them. More mould was observed than on an earlier visit by HSS staff in March indicating that moisture/water from the firefighting efforts is present in the building.  Mould and lead paint require much longer and greater exposures in most cases to cause health impacts.  As the damaged building materials and wet walls, flooring and ceilings have supported the growth of mould this must be investigated and dealt with during remediation of the building.

The landlord has hired an environmental contractor.  They began doing a hazard risk assessment of the building on June 4, 2019 as required by the order. This is required to satisfy the order conditions which relate to access on a temporary basis to the building for removal of personal property by tenants.  As soon as the information is prepared and submitted by the engineering company to the landlord and supplied to the Department, a plan for how to protect or block areas that have asbestos can be put in place by the landlord and a plan for resuming access to the building can be set up.  The remediation of the building toward occupancy will require much more time and will be the work of the landlord and require input from other regulatory agencies including the Office of the Fire Marshall, WSCC and the Department of Health and Social Services.

QUESTION: When do you expect the order conditions related to temporary access to be fulfilled, and when do you expect access could be granted?

MINISTER’S RESPONSE: “The environmental contractor’s onsite sampling and work should now be complete. The testing and processing of samples taken will take some additional time.

The landlord will then have to submit a plan that addresses any hazards that are found in environmental contractor’s assessment.

Once hazards are identified and areas where hazards exist can have protections put in place by the landlord to the satisfaction of the regulators a temporary access plan can be established.

QUESTION: How is the Department keeping evacuees apprised of updates related to orders, access, etc.?

MINISTER’S RESPONSE: “The order requires the landlord to take action to ensure that no one has access to the building until another order in writing is provided by the department. The owner of the building/landlord is responsible for communicating with tenants in regards to the current status within the building. 

The OPHCO and the CEHO will post a public notification when the required the action by the landlord has been taken and changes are made to the access restrictions to the buildings.

The landlord posted a sign indicating the building was closed to access by the public by a health hazard order on the day it was issued.  When the order is modified or adjusted to allow access to the building details will be posted on the entry to the building. 

Tenants are encouraged to stay in contact with the landlord and local manager.”