Edmonton’s Public School division says its workers didn’t follow proper hazardous materials protocols during a repair job at Greenfield School in Edmonton and students may have been exposed to asbestos.
Speaking to reporters Friday, superintendent Darrel Robertson said the division first heard of problems in late June, after work began in early May to repair a burst pipe, prompting an occupational health and safety investigation and the hiring of a third-party contractor to finish work.
The plastic sheeting used early on in the job wasn’t airtight enough to ensure asbestos-contaminated dust didn’t float out into the rest of the school, Robertson said, offering an apology to the parents and staff at the school.
“I have high expectations of all of us to make sure that our workplaces and our places of learning are healthy and positive, and in this case, we did not follow procedures that were required to make sure that that was the case with this construction project,” said Robertson.
He said air-quality testing has since determined the school to be safe, but asbestos-containing dust could have moved into the hallway of the school between May 2 and May 9, and from June 5 to June 6 when new drywall was being installed. Robertson said the division will be looking a staffing decisions and what went wrong.
“There will be accountability in that process,” said Robertson, who added temporary walls have since been built to seal off the area.
Students and staff have remained at the school since last school year, although construction work is limited to evenings and weekends for at least a month. The work zone is closed off under “negative air pressure,” which aims to create a vacuum effect keeping air out of the rest of the school.
“We need to review our processes and our checks and balances to make sure that this does not happen again,” Robertson said.
Three classrooms and a sensory room were closed during repair work in May and June. Drywall compound, or mud, was found to have between one and five per cent of asbestos. Since then, the division said it has worked to mitigate he asbestos dust, including with cleaning and HEPA filters.
‘It would literally be billions of dollars’ to remove asbestos in schools
The 55-year-old K-6 school in the southwest neighbourhood of Greenfield was at 70 per cent of its 723-student capacity, as of Edmonton Public’s March capital maintenance plan.
Multiple reports dating back to 2007 proposed asbestos abatement in the school, including one facility evaluation report that noted work on parts of the hot-water heating system would require insulation “suspected of containing asbestos” be replaced.
Robertson said the asbestos that exists in most older public schools around the city is generally not harmful if it’s undisturbed, and removing it all is “practically impossible.”
“If we were to try to replace all of the materials in our 200-plus buildings that may contain asbestos, we would not have enough money to be able to tackle those projects. It would literally be billions of dollars to tear apart all those schools and remediate that,” he said.