The Brandon School Division was forced into damage control yesterday following news that a local company would be conducting asbestos removal at Riverview School during school hours.
We suggest the school division could have saved itself some trouble had it been more up front with parents and students from the beginning of the process.
The school division is replacing a heating system in the school to the tune of $1.1 million, and in order to start the process, some asbestos tape must be removed from the school ductwork in the crawl space before demolition of the system can take place.
Unfortunately, parents at the school were apparently only made aware of the situation after someone posted a notice of the pending asbestos removal on a local Internet chat site. Concerned parents began calling into the school and school division demanding answers, prompting the division to post a message on the official Riverview School website.
In the message, the division said that “in order to accommodate concerns of the public the work will be performed outside of regular school hours,” this week.
We don’t doubt that the licensed company, Power Vac, that has been contracted to do the asbestos removal will do its utmost to ensure that asbestos fibres are contained and don’t spread through the air within the school.
And it’s also important to note that the process will be monitored by Pinchin Environmental, which will also be performing air sampling during and after the removal procedure “to ensure that provincial and federal guidelines are followed.”
These are good procedures, and parents and school staff need to understand this. But as we all know, mistakes can happen, even with the best laid plans.
We can only wonder at why the school division chose not to inform parents regarding the asbestos removal, and why it was initially scheduled to be done during school hours when children were in their desks. The official statement suggests that the decision to move forward with the asbestos removal came down to accommodating a “very tight schedule” in order to have the new heating system up and working before November.
That the school division says the company “has performed many projects for the Brandon School Division in the past with never any problems of asbestos fibres being released into our schools,” is, nevertheless, disquieting.
Just how many Brandon schools have had asbestos removal projects going on during school hours? And how prevalent is the mineral in our school division buildings?
A recent Globe and Mail report into the dangers of asbestos use and inhalation suggests that schools in this country are of particular concern for asbestos contamination.
Many elementary schools and high schools in this country were built when asbestos was a favoured building material — generally prior to 1990. As time wears on, these buildings begin to show their age and require maintenance, including crumbling ceilings, deteriorating pipe wraps and water damage.
The World Health Organization says there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, though the Canadian government has tried to argue that Chrysotile asbestos — which this country still exports — is “less potent and does less damage to the lungs” than amphibole asbestos.
As knowledge of the dangers of asbestos exposure spreads and the number of workplace health and safety complaints and asbestosis claims grow across the country, it’s no wonder that Riverview parents reacted with alarm.
When it comes to other potential dangers to particular students, such as peanut allergies for example, the school division loudly sounds the alarm and bans the products from all school grounds. But when it comes to asbestos, a substance that poses a hazard to all students, the response seems oddly lackadaisical.
The BSD administration may be right, and students could be in no danger of exposure to asbestos. But the need to remove it, and the timeline to do so, should not have been kept from parents.