Aging Saint John High needs regular monitoring for dangerous asbestos, official says –


Saint John High School will have to step up efforts to monitor and control asbestos in its walls and ceilings as the ancient building ages, says a WorkSafeNB official.

A 2016 asbestos assessment found 138 rooms with traces of the mineral to varying degrees, according to health and safety reports obtained by CBC News through a right to information request.

The cancer-causing material, commonly used in construction before the 1970s, has to be microscopic to be perilous when inhaled, said Richard Blais, WorkSafeNB’s chief compliance officer.

“If there’s material containing asbestos in the building and that material is in excellent condition, then the risk of exposure would be very minimal,” Blais said.

“But what happens, of course, in buildings is that repairs, maintenance, hurt can occur, which can dislodge the asbestos within these products. That’s when the concern comes in.”

The high school building at Canterbury and Duke Street opened in 1932 and bought a new wing in the early 1960s, before asbestos was connected to certain respiratory illnesses and cancer.

Even in older buildings, if the material containing asbestos is in excellent condition, exposures is not inevitable, says Richard Blais, WorkSafeNB’s chief compliance officer. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Blais said any asbestos considered perilous would have been removed immediately from the high school.

In some areas, the asbestos identified in the assessment was found to be contained, and small or no action was required.

But some high-traffic areas, including a locker room, demanded immediate attention, Blais said. 

Deterioration as the school ages will only help asbestos surface and become airborne, he said.

“There’s different ways to mitigate that. You can remove it. You can encapsulate it.”

Management plot

The key to preventing problems is to design and follow a thorough asbestos management plot, which would include constant monitoring,he said.

Education Department spokesperson Kelly Cormier said asbestos management programs were established in all school districts in the 2003-04 school year.

The department allocates a minimum of $200,000 annually for asbestos remediation.

Both the Anglophone South School District and the Education Department say the Saint John schools they run are safe.

“As a government, we have a responsibility to ensure all students and staff can learn and work in safe and healthy schools,” Cormier wrote in an email. 

Asbestos Saint John High

Blais says it’s hard to tell from photos in a Saint John High School asbestos report whether the learned material would be fine enough to be considered a health risk.

She said inspections carried out in the fall of 2017 by WorkSafeNB confirmed an acceptable level of asbestos-containing materials in all four of the city’s high schools, with no risk to either students or staff.

“The reality is, any ancient building could have asbestos,” said John MacDonald, director of finance for the district.

“Anything considered pliable, that could have become airborne, would have been removed at that time.”

Blais said, looking at the Saint John High report, it’s hard to tell if the asbestos that was learned would be fine enough to be considered a health risk.

“The risk should be very, very low,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there’s isn’t going to be deterioration, but that’s the whole point of continuous inspection, repair and monitoring.”

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