Asbestos has been discovered at three Yellowknife public schools, but district officials say the material is contained and poses no risk to students, staff or the public.
A Sept. 28 letter to parents from Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1) shows abatement is required at J.H. Sissons, Mildred Hall and Sir John Franklin High School.
Asbestos was found in items such as a storage-room pipe at J.H. Sissons and a tile at Mildred Hall, said Yk1 superintendent Metro Huculak.
“In the majority of our schools, all hazardous materials are contained and pose no issue to regular operations,” the letter to parents states. “Those areas that require abatement have already been cordoned off and are not accessible to students or staff.”
The asbestos was discovered during a hazardous-materials assessment of the district’s buildings this June, said Huculak.
A company called Associated Environmental Consultants Inc. performed the inspection.
“As soon as we got the report, we went through it and we’re going to let our parents and staff know what’s happening,” said Huculak. “There’s absolutely no risk at all to staff or students.”
Yellowknifer requested a copy of the assessment, but Huculak said the final report is not yet available as it is still in draft form.
Asbestos was commonly used for fireproofing and insulating homes prior to 1990, according to Health Canada.
It can be found in a number of materials that include cement, furnaces, building insulation, as well as floor and ceiling tiles.
The material becomes a health hazard if the fibres in it are disturbed and become airborne, where people can then breathe them in, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
“The safety of our students and staff is paramount to us, which is why we’re taking steps to address this issue now,” states the letter to parents.
Associated Environmental Consultants Inc. is expected to hire a contractor and meet with the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) to set out a plan for abatement at the three schools, said Huculak.
The work will be completed at times when students are not in school, such as over the December and March breaks.
“There’s no problem now, but where there is some, we want to make sure (to) take precautions so that we remove the stuff that needs to be removed,” said Huculak.
Parents are invited to attend a Yk1 meeting about the issue on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Sir John Franklin High School gym.
The last hazardous-materials inspection at the Catholic school district was during a 2006 retrofit at St. Joseph School, said Janet Toner, assistant superintendent of business at Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS).
Some items containing asbestos were found in the school’s drywall, floor coverings and maintenance shop and were removed at that time, according to a June 2017 report provided by YCS.
An inspection of Weledeh Catholic School in 2000 and an inspection of St. Patrick High School in 1995 found no asbestos, according to the report.
“There haven’t been any changes to any of the YCS buildings since (2006),” said Toner. “We don’t have any concerns.”
There were also no hazardous materials found at the Commission scolaire francophone Territoire du Nord-Ouest during a 2016 inspection, according to Jacqueline McKinnon, manager of communications at the Department of Education, Culture and Employment.
The department directed Yk1 to complete an assessment “as we were unaware of the construction materials that were present in the Yk1 schools,” said McKinnon. “We have an oversight role across the NWT to ensure students and staff are in safe environments.”