Employees refuse to continue work in Pleasantville building

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Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees. — Telegram file photo

Six workers at the Rowan Centre and two workers at the Methadone Clinic — situated in Building 532 at Pleasantville in St. John’s — refused to continue to work in the building Monday afternoon citing health concerns.

Workers have, in the past, complained about rashes and odours likely from creosote used as a wood preservative when the building was constructed more than 50 years ago.

The workers, members of the Newfoundland Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), exercised their right to refuse work under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, NAPE stated in a news release.

The release also states that Eastern Health ordered the workers to report to work, and that the workers are currently waiting for the Eastern Health Occupational Health and Safety committee to report their refusals to Service NL’s Occupational Health and Safety Division.

“It’s unfortunate that staff felt they had to resort to this measure,” NAPE President Carol Furlong said. “They expressed their concerns to management on a number of occasions but Eastern Health refused to relocate them to another building. They were left with little choice.”

In December, Eastern Health moved services normally provided by the Recovery Centre at Building 532 to the Waterford Hospital as a precautionary measure while air quality testing was carried out at Building 532 to test for levels of creosote vapour in the building.

Several employees working at the Recovery Centre had developed rashes from an unknown origin, which prompted Eastern Health to launch an Occupational Health and Safety inspection in November conducted by an industrial hygienist with Service NL. It was concluded there was a possibility that exposure to low levels of creosote vapour may be responsible for the rashes.

Eastern Health first discovered possible exposure to creosote vapour in Building 532 in 2007 after employees reported an odour.

Air quality testing in 2008 and 2009 indicated levels of creosote vapour below the minimal acceptable level for people working out of the building.

The NAPE release says that Eastern Health stated in a December 2012 press release that there was no creosote in the newer parts of Building 532 where the Rowan Centre and the Methadone Clinic are situated.

“However, while the newer section of the building may not have creosote in the structure there are creosote vapours in Rowan Centre. Air quality testing in 2009 confirmed this,” Furlong said. “Eastern Health is doing more testing now and it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that there is creosote in the air these employees are breathing. Creosote is a carcinogen. Research indicates that there is no such thing as a safe level of a carcinogen.”

Section 45 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act allows workers to refuse work which they have reasonable grounds to believe is dangerous to his or her health or safety or the health or safety of other persons in the workplace.



Organizations: Rowan Centre, Methadone Clinic, Service NL Recovery Centre Newfoundland Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees Safety committee Waterford Hospital

Geographic location: Pleasantville

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Recent comments

  • karben
    January 29, 2013 - 10:17

    Eastern Health should have better sense than to ignore this issue - your business is Health Care! These employees deserve better and I hope Eastern Health steps up and properly investigates this and provides them with alternative work arrangements to ensure they can continue to carry out the important work that they do.

  • Ann
    January 22, 2013 - 10:45

    I would like to add the health effects that I found on Wikipedia that would be interesting related to long term and low levels of creosote Health effects According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), eating food or drinking water contaminated with high levels of coal tar creosote may cause a burning in the mouth and throat, and stomach pains. ATSDR also states that brief direct contact with large amounts of coal tar creosote may result in a rash or severe irritation of the skin, chemical burns of the surfaces of the eyes, convulsions and mental confusion, kidney or liver problems, unconsciousness, and even death. Longer direct skin contact with low levels of creosote mixtures or their vapors can result in increased light sensitivity, damage to the cornea, and skin damage. Longer exposure to creosote vapors can cause irritation of the respiratory tract. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that coal tar creosote is probably carcinogenic to humans, based on adequate animal evidence and limited human evidence. It is instructive to note that the animal testing relied upon by IARC involved the continuous application of creosote to the shaved skin of rodents. After weeks of creosote application, the animals developed cancerous skin lesions and in one test, lesions of the lung. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has stated that coal tar creosote is a probable human carcinogen based on both human and animal studies.[71] As such, the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a permissible exposure limit of 0.2 milligrams of coal tar creosote per cubic meter of air (0.2 mg/m3) in the workplace during an 8-hour day, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that spills or accidental releases into the environment of one pound (0.454 kg) or more of creosote be reported to them.[72] There is no unique exposure pathway of children to creosote. Children exposed to creosote will probably experience the same health effects seen in adults exposed to creosote. It is unknown whether children differ from adults in their susceptibility to health effects from creosote. A 2005 mortality study of creosote workers found no evidence supporting an increased risk of cancer death, as a result of exposure to creosote. Based on the findings of the largest mortality study to date of workers employed in creosote wood treating plants, there is no evidence that employment at creosote wood-treating plants or exposure to creosote-based preservatives was associated with any significant mortality increase from either site-specific cancers or non-malignant diseases. The study consisted of 2,179 employees at eleven plants in the United States where wood was treated with creosote preservatives. Some workers began work in the 1940s to 1950s. The observation period of the study covered 1979- 2001. The average length of employment was 12.5 years. One third of the study subjects were employed for over 15 years.[73] The largest health effect of creosote is deaths caused by residential fires, which are entirely unconnected with its industrial production or use.[74]