The City of Burnaby is trying to determine who dumped dozens of bags of hazardous material in a residential neighbourhood over the weekend.

A large pile of yellow bags marked with asbestos warning labels was left in an alley near Carleton Avenue and Cambridge Street on Sunday. A strip of caution tape placed over the bags read, “Respirators And Protective Clothing Are Required In This Area.”

People from the neighbourhood told CTV News they're not happy that someone would just discard something as potentially dangerous as asbestos, which can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma.

"Whoever did it is pretty stupid," said Franco Zenotto. "I mean, this isn't something you joke around with."

Residents reported the asbestos on Sunday, and road blocks were placed around the pile. On Tuesday, a contractor was brought in to safely dispose of the bags.

Miles Popik of Phoenix Enterprises, a hazardous materials removal company that services Burnaby and Vancouver, said the incident was anything but unique. He told CTV News companies will sometimes dump asbestos to save a little money.

"It could be a contractor that did this … to avoid the cost of, say, a waste manifest and the disposal fees," Popik said. "This is common. This happens every day."

But residents can breathe easy knowing the bags wouldn't pose a threat unless they were tampered with, according to Popik.

"It would have to be jumped on and disturbed and create a dust cloud, or release fibres into the air," he said.

But given that the bags were left blocking the alley for two days, residents said it's lucky that no children had started poking around the pile.

"Anyone can go there and open up the bag," Zenotto said. "Even some animals in the nighttime, they can open them up."

There were 140 reports of asbestos dumping in Burnaby last year alone, and there have been another 96 so far this year.

Erik Schmidt, manager of solid waste for the city, said that while Burnaby does investigate illegal dumping, culprits are rarely caught.

"Unfortunately it's very difficult to determine the source of the material," Schmidt said.

Illegal dumpers can face fines and, in cases of large-scale dumping, even criminal charges, Schmidt added.

With files from CTV Vancouver's Ben Miljure and Maria Weisgarber