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Mould provokes air quality fears

Three workers have called Yukon Employees’ Union president Laurie Butterworth with concerns about the air quality at the mouldy Thomson Centre.

Three workers have called Yukon Employees’ Union president Laurie Butterworth with concerns about the air quality at the mouldy Thomson Centre.

They learned about the spores through news reports. The government discovered the problem five months ago.

“I got a few phone calls this morning, very stressed out, from some members; they didn’t realize it was there,” said Butterworth on Wednesday.

“I thought this was all cleaned up. I mean, they’ve spent how many dollars putting a new roof on, replacing the walls? And that was the reason they closed it to start with.

“Now for me to hear that it’s back; I was taken a little bit by surprise.”

The Thomson Centre is emerging as a metaphor for problems within the department of Health and Social Services: it is behind schedule and has wasted millions of dollars, like Health buildings in Watson Lake and Dawson City.

But it appears the problems go deeper, as workers at the building haven’t been told about the latest outbreak of mould and only found out by reading the newspaper.

The Thomson Centre has been shuttered to long-term patients since 2002 because of worries about mould.

Between 2002-2003, the original infestation was ostensibly cleared by property management, which replaced the building’s roof and walls at a cost of $1.46 million.

The latest problem was discovered in November, and led the Yukon Party government to delay re-opening the building to long-term and palliative-care patients, breaking its election campaign promise.

About 15 people work at a diabetes education centre and a physiotherapy clinic inside the Thomson Centre, said hospital spokesperson Val Pike.

There have been no formal complaints from union members about the air quality within the Thomson Centre, though there have been complaints about air quality in other parts of the Whitehorse General Hospital, said Butterworth.

During question period this week, NDP health critic John Edzerza continually pressed Health Minister Brad Cathers about the mould.

He honed in on why the latest problem hasn’t been brought to the attention of employees or patients using the building, and what Cathers intends to do about property management’s role in the latest mould outbreak.

“Why are these people required to work in a building that the minister admits has a mould problem?” asked Edzerza on Wednesday.

“(B)ased on the advice we are receiving from experts, it is not believed to be a health issue for anyone except those who are in a fragile condition or who are particularly susceptible to problems with their respiratory system,” said Cathers.

“It is an option for the individuals there, if they feel there are issues, to relocate.”

On Thursday, Edzerza continued to challenge Cathers, demanding to know why it is up to a worker to complain about air quality before they’re protected.

“The minister gave what seemed like pretty glib assurance that the level of mould is only a health issue for people in a fragile condition or those who are susceptible to respiratory problems,” said Edzerza.

“It’s hard to understand how he can come to that conclusion, since the property management agency has yet to hire a mould expert to see if the building deserves a green light to re-open.”

Any employee has the right to complain to occupational health and safety branch if they feel their safety or air quality is compromised, said Cathers.

“The areas of mould discovered are not in areas related to staff,” he said. “The experts we have are confident that this does not pose a risk and we are acting based on that advice.”

Cathers has pledged that a mould expert is being hired by property management to look into the situation and advise how to solve it.

He expects to make an announcement within a month, he said.

Edzerza is also demanding Cathers act on his revelation that property management’s roof work “may have” played a role in the latest outbreak.

“What steps have been taken to determine who was responsible for the latest problem with mould, and what does the department plan to do about recovering the additional repair costs from the property management agency if that is where the responsibility lies?” asked Edzerza.

“For a department of the government to be attempting to recover costs of something from the property management agency would be a ridiculous concept,” replied Cathers.