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School shut down over asbestos concerns

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A Manitoba First Nation has shut down its school due to safety concerns after a worker found 25 bags of asbestos stored in a crawl space.

Berens River Chief George Kemp said council ordered the K-9 school closed on Monday after a worker discovered more than two dozen bags full of asbestos underneath the school’s crawlspace. He said it’s unsafe for the school’s 350 students and 100 staff to go in the school until an independent investigation determines it does not pose any potential health danger.

Kemp said Frontier School Division hired a company to remove asbestos from the school but did not tell anyone it was still being kept on site.

"That place is contaminated," Kemp said. "We’re not sending our kids into that environment."

Frontier School Division chief superintendent Ray Derksen released a statement on Tuesday saying a mechanical contractor discovered asbestos at the Berens River School following air quality tests in 2010. Derksen’s statement said the school division hired a qualified remediation company to remove and contain the asbestos, and the material was sealed and labeled according to provincial regulations and "temporarily stored" in the crawlspace under the school until it could be transported out of the community by winter road.

On Tuesday, the school division made arrangements for an independent expert to travel to the community to conduct a visual inspection and air quality testing. The division said it was advised access to the school will not be allowed by chief and council.

"At no time has Frontier covered up information regarding the conditions at the school or knowingly exposed occupants of the school to any risk or harm," Derksen’s statement said.

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