Asbestos and lead paint exposure risk low for students and staff, department says
Construction crews working at Three Oaks High School in Summerside breached protocol three times during the removal of lead paint and asbestos ceiling tiles, but the education department says exposure and risk to students and staff were low.
The breaches occurred in March when construction workers failed to meet the proper abatement protocols early in the construction process when removing lead-based paint and ceiling tiles containing one-per-cent to threeper-cent of asbestos.
A department spokesperson says construction work stopped as soon as the issues were identified, the areas were shut down and the Workers Compensation Board was notified.
Those areas were then cleaned according to proper protocol and reopened shortly after after all air and dust samples came back clean, the spokesperson said in a written statement.
“The construction was at the east end of the school in the former English Language School Board areas, away from students and staff. There was no need to communicate with parents as students and teachers were not permitted in the area and were not deemed at risk.”
However, custodial staff was in the area, and meetings were held to explain what happened and update them on new protocols to prevent future breeches.
“An email was issued to all TOSH staff advising them of what happened.”
But Opposition education critic Steven Myers says he was stunned to learn of these breaches only in an email he obtained through freedom of information.
The email was written by Public Schools Branch director Parker Grimmer as an update to deputy minister Susan Willis about the breaches by workers “who did not follow proper protocols.”
“While Chris (Keefe) feels the exposures in these cases are low and hopefully the risk to students and staff is also low, it will be an issue that needs to be communicated to TOSH staff, and at some point in the near future, someone will likely need to communicate these events to others also,” Grimmer wrote to Willis on March 3, 2017.
Myers says the fact there were three breaches that were not communicated to the public is concerning.
“They deliberately didn’t tell anyone. Asbestos is an airborne hazard, so to have the students and the teachers on that site and so close by, put them at additional risk,” Myers said.
He believes the PSB’s treatment of the situation is irresponsible and has sent a letter to Premier Wade MacLauchlan calling for Grimmer’s resignation.
“That’s extremely careless for somebody who has the responsibility to take care of the public school systems,” Myers said.
“I believe the families deserve a public report and that the government should bring in an expert as well as apologizing to Islanders, students and staff about this incident. Why they didn’t tell the parents and why they didn’t tell the staff if beyond me.”
Work is being carried out on the exterior of the former English Language School Board office in Summerside.