Spider scare causes evacuation, fumigation of government building

It's got the makings of an Alfred Hitchcock movie but we are not talking birds here. 

A spider with a potentially nasty bite prompted a shutdown of a government building in Ottawa at a cost that is truly frightening.  How much is the health and safety of employees worth?  Well, in this case about $18,000.  The spider was thought to be a brown recluse, which is rare in these parts.  It was determined to be a more common spider called the Yellow Sac spider. 

Employees outside the Shared Services Canada building today weren't keen to talk spiders today.  But those walking by had some thoughts.

“Well, it’s gross,” says one woman.

“I don’t like spiders,” adds her friend, “I think it’s money well spent.”

That money was aimed at ridding the building of what was thought to be a brown recluse spider with a necrotic venomous bite.  They are not native to Canada and are rarely find here.

The building was evacuated on June 5th to fumigate for the spider. The 50 employees worked from home the following day.  When another sighting occurred, employees were also evacuated on October 18th and the building closed until October 22nd.  This time, the spider was caught.

    "Because the health and safety of our employees matters," the department said in an email, “while waiting for the analysis on the spider from the lab, management decided to clean and treats the ducts and fumigate. Since the building had already been evacuated, the fumigation would not disrupt operations.  There was no impact on SSC’s ability to deliver on its core mandate to customers.”

The department says the cost for fumigation in June was covered by property management at no cost to the federal government.
“The fumigation and duct cleaning costs in October were arranged through a Public Services and Produrement Canada contract for a cost of $18,000 to Shared Services Canada,” the email continued.

“This is a government building?” says one government worker walking by.  “That’s a waste of our money.”

Arachnologist Chris Buddle would agree. Buddle, who is now the Dean of Students at McGill University, specializes in spiders.

“I don't doubt there were spiders there,” he says, “and I don't doubt spiders freak some people out and spiders occasionally will bite people but I don’t' think fumigation or evacuation is the right response.”

Some studies suggest you're never more than 10 feet away from a spider.  Some would even say it's more like 3 feet so why do they evoke so much fear in so many people?

At the Museum of Nature,  there is awe and respect for some very large spiders, in this case tarantulas. 

“Spiders don’t bother me,” says Leah Kobzan, “as long as they don’t touch me.”

“They're awesome, cool, misunderstood,” adds Mathieu Mongrain.

So, too, was the spider in the building.  It turned out to be a yellow sac spider, which Buddle says is extremely common in our homes.


“If you look in the crown molding in your house,” he says, “You are likely to see a cream colored spider living in a silken retreat near the ceilings of your house.  They are extremely common in many, many houses.”

They can bite but rarely.

“Spiders in homes are generally a good thing,” he says, “They will eat a lot of things that we like even less than spiders.”

Professor Buddle says that $18-thousand dollars would have been better spent on an education campaign teaching people about the benefits of spiders in our homes.