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Asbestos threat removed from Hay River high school

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, March 24, 2008

HAY RIVER - An asbestos removal project was undertaken at Hay River's Diamond Jenness Secondary school over the spring break.

About 300 elbows on pipes were removed and replaced during the project.

Richard Mercredi, the South Slave superintendent with the Department of Public Works and Services, said, when the school was built in the early 1970s, there were no preformed elbows for pipes. Instead, the elbows were covered with an insulating wrap containing asbestos.

The precautionary work was the result of an asbestos scare that closed the school for almost a week in mid-February.

The scare began when a Public Works and Services maintenance worker noticed a small amount of material on a ceiling tile below an elbow in a pipe where insulating wrap had become damaged.

There was concern that the loose material may have been asbestos.

However, testing found no sign of the hazardous material in the air and the school reopened Feb. 18.

Mercredi said testing following the work over spring break also found no asbestos in the air. "All air samples have come back negative," he said, adding the air will continue to be monitored for probably another month.

The abatement work took about a week and ended March 17.

No one except a six-person asbestos abatement team from Public Works and Services was allowed in the building during the project.

Mercredi said 24-hour security was stationed outside to ensure no one entered.

"We always made sure the building was empty," he said.

Mercredi said he is confident the building is safe for students to return after break, adding he has two grandchildren attending the school.

"There's still asbestos in the building, but it's encapsulated," he explained. "It's safe in that condition."

For example, there may be asbestos in drywall and fire guarding in the boiler room, and pipe elbows which are not accessible and securely encapsulated were left alone.

The school has about 330 students and about 30 staff members. Asbestos has been linked to cancer and lung problems.