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Dissecting the asbestos file

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) finally released the long-awaited executive summary of the Asbestos Civil Investigation’s final report. However, many unanswered questions remain regarding accountability, decision-making, and transparency.

Last Friday, MCK executive director Onerahtókha (Karlie) Marquis, chief Cody Diabo and the investigation’s community observer Doug Lahache participated in a press conference to talk about the findings.

“This is not where this ends. This is only one piece of the ever-growing asbestos situation. We are here to talk only about the report. Things like remediation are forthcoming,” said Diabo at the start.

The investigation, which began in May, was conducted by Deloitte Forensic Inc. and concluded in September. According to Marquis, the investigation was mandated to gather timelines, facts, events and decision-making in regards to the asbestos-containing material (ACM) contamination in the community.

“In being transparent with the community, I think it is really important to state from the onset the matter of ACM being found in our community was and is an organizational failure,” said Marquis.

“I think the report clearly flags various systemic issues that have contributed to the situation that we are dealing with today. I believe it is important for the MCK as an organization to take responsibility and acknowledge the mistakes that were made.”

However, when asked who was the decision-making authority that allowed ACM to be used as landfill, Diabo said that Deloitte was not mandated to identify who to hold accountable and that it was now up to the MCK moving forward to make that decision.

Additionally, he said that it will be part of the action plan that they will be creating to address many of the outstanding issues and questions that remain, such as policy and procedure standardization, gaps in training, communication and decision-making, and of course, remediation.

“The executive summary clearly states that our PSU (Public Safety Unit) and our KEPO (Kahnawake Environment Protection Office) units were flagging some concerns, and perhaps the Capital Unit had a different perception of the matter,” said Marquis.

“And that is a concern in itself, and moving forward, I am committed and need to ensure that we have that single viewpoint.” Marquis became the executive director in March of 2021.

Executive summary highlights

Some of the key elements in the executive summary include information pertaining to who knew what and when. Here is a breakdown:

According to Deloitte’s investigation, in 2016, the sewer system replacement work began, and asbestos-containing cement (AC) pipes were removed from the ground. Large volumes of landfill from this work was used to fill Lot 106.

“Deloitte conducted an assessment on the legislation, policies, procedures and frameworks that contained possible instances of non-compliance that appears to have contributed to the events,” the executive summary stated.

The investigator also noted non-compliance of MCK laws as they pertain to the Kanien’kehaká:ka of Kahnawake Law and the Sanitary Conditions Law.

Furthermore, Deloitte noted non-compliance related to training and communication. The executive summary revealed that it was generally known by Capital Unit and Public Works employees that MCK’s sanitary sewer system contained AC pipes from at least 2011.

Moreover, despite training being available related to the dangers of working with asbestos materials from Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1994, those working directly with AC pipes either received no training and/or information or received conflicting information related to the potential
hazards of AC pipe.

“We confirmed that key personnel of the KEPO and PSU were both aware of the potential dangers of asbestos in 2016.

“We also confirmed that the management of the Capital Unit would have had knowledge of the potential hazards beginning in 2019 following being sent to training,” the executive summary stated.

Additionally, according to the investigation, internally, the presence of ACM pipe fragments was known to PSU, KEPO, Public Works, and the Capital Unit in 2016 when issues were raised about the pieces being found in the community.

Marisela Amador The Eastern Door

The executive summary also stated that the Council of Chiefs and MCK’s Legal Services were only made aware in 2019.

“It appears as though no strategic decision making on the subject of asbestos was made until 2019 when Legal Services was made aware of the issue as a result of overhearing a conversation.

“Prior to that, concerns were raised at various points in time from KEPO and PSU, and the appearance of ACM in landfills was dealt with on an individual basis by the Capital Unit who operated under the premise that the materials did not pose a health risk,” the executive summary stated.

It is important to note that Capital Unit, Public Works, KEPO, and PSU were all overseen by the MCK’s executive operations officer. That role is currently held by Kevin Kennedy.

The Eastern Door sent the MCK follow-up questions specifically about Kennedy’s knowledge and role in the asbestos contamination. We also asked the MCK why it wasn’t holding individuals in positions of authority responsible for their role in the contamination.

In an email reply, Marquis said: “While I understand that the community is seeking answers around the aspect of accountability, the fact of the matter is that we aren’t at that point right now.

“But it will be very important that we address the decision-making points around the mishandling of ACM and make sure that these decisions don’t take place again.

“While trying to balance being transparent with the community, we also have to be careful on how we proceed. The action plan will identify how we will approach this sensitive issue.”

The Eastern Door also requested the full report, but according to Diabo, Council needs to discuss the request before releasing the full report. He added that this discussion would not happen before the holidays.

The MCK paid $230,000 from its operations reserve for the investigation.

Human impact

When it comes to remediation, the Council has not provided any new information. Although they said that it would be part of the action plan, community members affected by the contamination have been left with no recourse as they wait for their properties to be cleaned.

Community member Darryl Paul had two of his properties on Route 207 contaminated with ACM. He told The Eastern Door that in 2017 he submitted a request to receive landfill through the Capital Unit.

“They approved my application. And then, in 2018, I received the landfill through the Capital Unit. So now, according to this report, they knew. I already knew that they knew. But now I have something in writing that they knew about it, prior to that, ” said Paul.

Paul explained that after receiving landfill in 2018, he was approached by the Capital Unit in 2019 to use his second property on Route 207, located across from the Catholic Cemetery, temporarily as a holding area because they were doing construction work.

“I didn’t have a reason not to say yes, so I allowed them to use it. Then when it broke that there was asbestos, I spoke to John Sky from Capital Unit and Frank McComber (former MCK chief),” explained Paul.

“I told them that they could not use my property any longer unless I got a letter assuring me that both my properties would be cleaned up at the end of the 2019 construction season.”

According to Paul, he received a letter from Sky confirming that his two properties would be remediated. But after the 2019 construction season ended, his properties still contained ACM.

“I actually had to threaten that I was going to push the dirt onto the 207 for them to clean it up,” said Paul.

The entrepreneur said that they finally cleaned up the property that they used to store landfill in the summer of 2020, but his original property was never remediated.

“My main objective is to get my property cleaned up. But it seems like now, new people came in with the Council election. And the original agreement I had, now they want to renege on it.”

Because of all of these delays, Paul had to push the construction of a duplex that he was planning on one of his properties. He now fears that he will get lost in the shuffle and that he will pay to remediate his property.

“I sent the MCK a registered letter in September. Then they replied to me, and they said that it was a mistake, that cleaning my other property was not part of the agreement,” he said.

But Paul had receipts. He kept all of the emails he exchanged with McComber, where he confirmed that both properties would be remediated.

He sent the MCK another registered letter with all of the emails and proof of the agreement on October 14, but has not heard back.

marisela.amador88@gmail.com

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