Asbestos cleanup sparks concern at Cole Harbour school

January 15, 2014 at 10:15 AM

Two parents whose children attend a Cole Harbour elementary school say they’re concerned that they weren’t notified of an asbestos removal operation at the school over the Christmas holidays.

Laurie and Tyler Berdan learned of the asbestos cleanup at Colonel John Stuart Elementary School while walking their dog with their kids on the property over the holidays. Tyler noticed some trucks doing work on the school and spotted a sign on the door indicating that asbestos was being removed.

Laurie said she contacted the school board once classes were back in session and was told parents weren’t informed because there was no health risk.

“Well, I guess we differ in that opinion,” she said Wednesday. “We’re talking about asbestos. Yes, there is a health risk. It’s pretty well-documented.”

Asbestos, a construction material frequently found in older buildings, can cause cancer or scarring of the lungs when inhaled in large quantities. The federal government’s guidelines on asbestos say it does not pose a significant health risk when it is enclosed in a product and is not disturbed.

Laurie said she’s confident that the school and school board have taken all the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the students and staff. But she said parents should have been notified of the operation.

“I’m sure they wouldn’t have the kids at the school if the air quality tests didn’t come back within the realm (of safety),” she said. “I’m absolutely positive that they’ve done everything correct. But I also think that we kind of have the right to know.”

After learning about the asbestos removal, the parents were left with unanswered questions.

“When was it found? How was it found? Was it disturbed? How much of it was there?” Laurie asked. “Parents should have the right to assess any sort of health risk.”

Tyler said there was no effort to inform anybody, “regardless of whether the risk was higher or lower or virtually non-existent.”

Doug Hadley, the spokesman for the Halifax regional school board, said ceiling tiles were removed from most of the school over the holidays in preparation for a lighting retrofit planned for this month.

“It was recognized that the ceiling tiles, because of their age, would have contained asbestos,” he said. “It actually was a proactive measure. There was not any immediate concern.”

Hadley said that due to their age, about 75 per cent of schools in the board’s jurisdiction may have asbestos. But he emphasized that as long as the material isn’t disturbed, there is no risk to health or safety.

Although the board doesn’t have a policy on informing parents of asbestos removal, Hadley said after the Berdans’ complaint, parents at Colonel John Stuart Elementary School will be notified about the recent work.

“Typically, we would not inform parents of that type of removal because it only takes place during times when no students or staff are in the building,” he said. “If it had occurred during a time when the building was going to be occupied, we would have made that notification.”

But since more schools may be facing similar work in the future, the board will consider notifying parents at those schools, too.

“It gives us some thought that maybe, just to be on the proactive side of things, that we let parents know what the scope of the work is before it happens.”

Hadley said tests conducted at Colonel John Stuart Elementary School showed acceptable air quality.

By Frances Willick
The Chronicle Herald