Renovating a school building seems like a simple enough task to accomplish at the outset. Just remove the old fixtures and finishes and put up the newer, more modern ones. It couldn’t be any easier, right? Many of the schools in Toronto and the surrounding area are old and are showing signs of their age. School board budgets are always tight, and the inner city is rather sparse on wide open spaces for new construction. Renovations to upgrade the facilities were the logical choice.
Until the renovation projects were underway, and asbestos was found in multiple places in multiple schools. Now that the asbestos has been discovered and in most cases disturbed, total asbestos removal is the only safe option.
How did this happen?
To be fair to the school boards, asbestos was used widely in construction projects of all types. Watching TV shows like Mad Men reminds us that all kinds of things we know now to be health hazards, like smoking during pregnancy (!), were once commonplace. As we learn more about the dangers of hazardous substances, we do more to address those dangers.
When the project plan to renovate several Toronto schools was developed, the “acceptable” level of asbestos was far higher than what it is now. Between the development of the plan and its implementation, the regulations on the acceptable levels per the Occupational Health and Safety Act changed. Now the schools have been tested and the problem must be addressed with proper asbestos removal procedures.
What schools are affected?
The Toronto Catholic District School Board has posted the results of their detailed assessments of the conditions of their schools online. You can see the status of your local school and the remediation plans. The most recent report for the Toronto District School Board was in 2006, and it wasn’t commissioned by the board. If you are worried about your local school, contact your city councillor or school trustee for your ward or district. You can discuss specific steps that have been planned or have been taken to address the problem of asbestos in your school.
What can I do to help address the problem?
The presence of asbestos in our schools is alarming because it’s where our children spend a third of their day, ten months of the year. That means the overwhelming majority of their time is spent at home. If your local elementary or high school was built before 1979, there is a good chance your home was too. If you’re lucky, a previous owner did extensive renovation work and asbestos abatement was taken care of at the time. But even if that is the case, you don’t know if it was done properly.
As they say, knowledge is power. First, contact a qualified asbestos removal company to arrange testing for your home. Then, if is asbestos is found, decide what to do about it.