The case against asbestos: Accidental exposure, entirely preventable – July 20, 2014 Globe and Mail

A July 20, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled “The case against asbestos: Accidental exposure, entirely preventable.”

The article notes that asbestos is “still regularly found in older schools and universities across Canada, wrapped around pipes, above ceilings and behind walls.”

North York

The story reminds me of my own experiences. When I worked as a teacher at a school in North York in the early 1980s, I learned that the water pipes in the hallways were covered in asbestos. There were tears in the coverings over the asbestos, meaning that it was easy to pick it out and hold it in your fingers. When I spoke with the school administration, I was informed that asbestos is like cigarette smoke.

I was told (and this is a paraphrase): “If you stop being exposed to it, then over the years the potential for asbestos to cause you harm will disappear.” I knew this was not true, having read about the topic. Once asbestos fibres are in your lungs, that’s it. In 30 or 40 years, in many cases, depending on the exposure, cancer is inevitable. If I recall correctly, the asbestos was safely removed, or else it was covered up, so as not to be immediately accessible.

Mississauga

Years later, in the late 1990s, I worked at a school in Mississauga. There had been some asbestos on the basement water pipes in the house, built in 1945, that we had purchased in Long Branch in south Etobicoke. We had arranged for a specialist company to come in, with all the required equipment, and safely remove the asbestos.

I noticed, when I happened to look at the water pipes under the sink in my classroom in Mississauga, where I was working, that there was what appeared to be asbestos on the pipes. I spoke to the school administration, and was informed that matter would be looked into. Nothing was done.

I arranged to have a small amount of the material tested. It turned out to be asbestos, as I had assumed. I then arranged for the same company, that had removed the asbestos from our house in Etobicoke, to come in during a time when the school was closed, and remove the asbestos from my classroom.

“Are you an expert on asbestos?”

Some time later, I spoke with a school board official who was responsible for building maintenance. I told him there was asbestos in the school. He asked, “Are you an expert on asbestos?” I informed him that I had arranged for testing of the asbestos in my classroom, and that the test had come back positive. I also said that I had arranged for the safe removal of the asbestos at my personal expense. It didn’t cost much, as I recall.

The official informed me that it was against the rules and regulations of the board to bring in any outside contractor. I left it for the official to deal with that fact as he wished. I did not, however, hear back further about this topic.

I later read up on the board’s rules and regulations as they pertain to asbestos. I was able to arrange for water pipes, in all of the classrooms in the school, to be checked for asbestos by competent authorities, and to have it removed. In cases where there was asbestos in ceilings, that asbestos was left in place, on the assumption that it was safe to do so.

As the July 20, 2014 Globe and Mail article notes, however, the best policy would be to remove asbestos entirely from schools. That is a point that I had not thought about, until I read the article.

Updates

A Jan. 28, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Workers at Ottawa Tax Centre astonished after asbestos found in ceiling: Several workers say they only learned about cancer-causing substance in December.”

A Dec. 9, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Asbestos ban to be announced by federal government next week: Canadian labour and public health groups have been calling for a comprehensive ban for years.”

A Feb. 7, 2019 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Banning asbestos is a victory for all Canadians. But the fight is not over.”

An excerpt reads:

Now that the federal government has put an end to new uses for asbestos, all levels of government must focus on protecting workers and the public from existing asbestos that is still in many homes and workplaces.

Provincial governments must ensure the nation’s schools, hospitals and government buildings are checked for its presence. We need building registries that are comprehensive and publicly searchable, and parents, educators and staff alike should be informed when they risk being exposed to asbestos.

While the federal government expanded its asbestos building registry to include all buildings, Saskatchewan remains the only province or territory with a mandatory public-building registry, which was established in 2013. This helps workers take preventative measures when working on renovations of existing buildings and ensures that those inside don’t inadvertently breathe in the substance. Knowing where asbestos exists is a critical first step in preventing exposures.

 

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