NEWS

Gillam asbestos fears a 'Facebook frenzy,' says mayor

03/06/2012 05:12 EST | Updated 05/06/2012 05:12 EDT

The mayor of a northern Manitoba town is dismissing fears some residents have raised about asbestos and contaminated soil being disposed of in the local dump.

Mayor Jim Goymer of Gillam, Man., insists that the town landfill is a licensed disposal ground for asbestos, and it has been burying asbestos from the area for 30 years.

Concerns about asbestos at the dump came to light this week, when some people posted Facebook photographs of industrial waste removal bags tagged with a "Danger" notice that states the waste material is a "Cancer and lung disease hazard."

Some worried residents in the town of about 1,200 accused local officials of not warning or consulting them about the dumping.

But Goymer said the community had been notified that the bags of asbestos and other waste was being trucked in from a former Mid-Canada Line Site in Ontario.

As well, he said the asbestos is being handled properly and it poses no risk to the public.

"Basically it's about three or four people — half a dozen at the most — that were all upset. They've blown this up to where they're [saying they are] going to have two-headed babies and everything else," Goymer told CBC News on Tuesday.

"It was sort of a 'Facebook frenzy,' I'd call it."

Furthermore, Goymer said the town is not legally obligated to notify people about normal operations at the landfill.

Disposal was approved

What is unique about the latest shipment is it's the first time waste asbestos is being trucked in from somewhere else, he said.

Manitoba Conservation approved the disposal and burial of 410 tonnes of non-friable asbestos and 540 tonnes of non-hazardous contaminated soil in the Gillam landfill.

Non-friable asbestos is in pellet form and is therefore not airborne, according to provincial officials.

The town is getting paid $80 a tonne to accept the waste material.

Julie Crawford, who lives a few kilometres from the dump site, told CBC News earlier this week that the whole town was talking about the asbestos dump.

"Why do we all of a sudden become Chernobyl of the north, you know — future home of the two-headed babies?" she said on Sunday.

"Why would they go and dump it on us and not let us know ahead of time? There is no accountability."

Residents want public meeting

Crawford and about 25 other residents met on Monday night and agreed to draft a letter to Goymer and town council, requesting a public meeting for next week.

Crawford told CBC News that the worried residents want to know why their local politicians did not inform them sooner about the asbestos dump.

As well, they want assurances that the materials do not pose a public health risk, she said.

Goymer said the situation could have been handled better, in that the town could have put up a notice earlier.

"The only thing I think of is we probably should have … put up a notice that this stuff was arriving and that it was safe," he said.

The warning labels on the bags only apply if anyone tries to open the bags or go near them, according to the town. Access to the disposal site has been restricted.

The bags of asbestos will be buried in soil and snow until the ground thaws and a proper hole can be dug, he said.

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