Asbestos buried in Tagish

Tagish residents aren't happy with how truckloads of asbestos have been hauled from Watson Lake to their community landfill. "If it's not good for Watson Lake, why are you taking it to Tagish?" asked resident Rob Hopkins.

Tagish residents aren’t happy with how truckloads of asbestos have been hauled from Watson Lake to their community landfill.

“If it’s not good for Watson Lake, why are you taking it to Tagish?” asked resident Rob Hopkins.

“The word asbestos gets everyone excited,” said Wes Wirth, manager of operations for Community Services. “But it’s not loose asbestos.”

That’s the most dangerous form of the fibrous material, which was once commonly used as insulation but is now understood to cause cancer.

Instead, the buried material, which was ripped from Watson Lake’s RCMP detachment, is drywall with asbestos embedded in it. As such, territorial regulations allow the waste to be buried in a landfill, after several precautions are taken.

“Once it’s double bagged it can be buried at any landfill,” said Wirth. Signs have also been posted near the burial area, “to make sure people don’t go digging in the area,” he said.

Some Tagish residents allege that the waste was never properly bagged. But Wirth says that’s not true.

In all, about 50 cubic yards of the waste was buried and capped in late November.

The waste was hauled to Tagish because Watson Lake’s landfill is almost full, said Wirth.

Next stop was Upper Liard. But that dump is also in the process of being shuttered.

Teslin was next. “They were prepared to take it, but they wanted a significant number of dollars to do it,” said Wirth.

So the trucks carried on up the highway, until they arrived at Tagish, where the community landfill had plenty of room.

And, as an unincorporated community, its dump is operated by the territorial government. “We don’t need to seek individual’s permission to do this,” said Wirth. “We’re just following what we’re able to do under the scope of our permits.”

There was one other reason why Tagish made sense as a destination for the asbestos. “The contractor doing the work in Watson Lake also had a building to do in Tagish,” said Wirth. “If we’re having to bury something in Tagish, we may as well bury everything in one hole.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.