24 Sussex Drive has asbestos fibre embedded in plaster throughout the residence according to an inspection report.. (Tom Hanson/CP)

24 Sussex Drive reno more time and money: asbestos

24 Sussex Drive, the Prime Minister’s official residence on the bank of the Ottawa River, is not where Justin Trudeau and his family have been living.

And now it appears they won’t be moving in soon, as the renovation of the old stately building is likely to take much longer and be more costly that was originally thought.

To anyone who has ever lived through a renovation, this may not be much of a surprise, but the reason for this extension has to do with asbestos.

The National Capital Commission is the Crown corporation responsible for 24 Sussex’s upkeep.

When the Trudeau family opted to live across the road in Rideau Cottage on the grounds of the Governor General’s residence, the NCC hired consultants to report on the condition of the Confederation-era building ahead of renovations. 

In 2015 experts were hired to check for lead paint and asbestos, among other things.

“Previous reporting identified the plaster within the building as being non-asbestos. However, sampling programs completed as part of the building assessment have demonstrated that grey coarse plaster within the building is asbestos-containing,” reads the report, obtained by CBC News through the Access to Information Act.

Grey plaster work from the stone mason’s who worked on the residence “forms the majority of the walls/ceilings” of the main building, notes the report. Inspectors found that while the building’s white plaster didn’t contain asbestos, they felt it could not be easily separated from the contaminated plaster.

A former asbestos mine worker holds a chunk of the mineral fibre. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

At one time asbestos was heralded as a wonder compound for its fire-retardant properties, and there was great national pride in the mining of the now-toxic mineral in the neighbouring province of Quebec.

Now it is recognized as a carcinogenic mineral that is linked to mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that can develop in the lining of the lungs as a result of inhaling asbestos dust and fibres.

While the plaster in the official residence was in good condition and the engineering team said the walls could be left as long as 24 Sussex is simply re-occupied or maintained as-is.

The report however, issued a warning, “In the event that the building is to be renovated, it is recommended that the plaster be removed”.

Occupational health and safety officer with the Canadian Association of University Teachers, Laura Lozanski said asbestos in plaster — especially in older homes — can be easily disturbed by rubbing up against it or drilling a hole into it, which can release toxic fibres.

“Once the fibres are disturbed they go into the air and that’s how we either breathe them in or ingest them. So we always have quite serious concerns,” said Lozanski, who has become one of Canada’s most active asbestos educators.

“I’m going to assume this plaster is old … It’s probably been releasing fibres from time to time over the years.”

She said being exposed to asbestos doesn’t automatically lead to an asbestos-related disease.

“But if you have been exposed, the risk is there,” Lozanski said.

Previous inspections of 24 Sussex had unearthed asbestos in the home’s drywall and in the pipe insulation similar to what you’d find in many mid-twentieth century homes in Canada.

According to the Huffington Post, the NCC received multiple scenarios for renovating the residence, ranging from modest nip-and-tucks to a $561.7 million White House-type complex.

The 322-page access to information package suggests the NCC was hoping for a decision from the Prime Minister’s Office green lighting major renovations.

Justin Trudeau said he doesn’t intend to move back into the home he grew up in during his father’s tenure as prime minister.

“I’ve made the decisions to talk to experts and to look at the NCC and allow them to make the determinations on what the future of 24 Sussex will look like,” Trudeau said.

The NCC says it “is working with its federal partners to develop a plan for the future of the official residences including 24 Sussex Drive to ensure the federal government is able to make a prudent and informed decision.”

The Prime Minister’s Office referred all questions about 24 Sussex to the NCC.

(With files from CBC, Huffington Post and CP)

Categories: Environment & Animal Life, Society

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