Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

School asbestos to be reviewed

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THE province has launched a review to determine why 25 bags of asbestos were stored underneath a First Nations school.

Berens River band council ordered the community's kindergarten-to-Grade 9 school closed last week after a worker discovered the asbestos in the school's crawl space. Community leaders felt is was unsafe for the school's 350 students and 100 staff to go into the school until an independent investigation determines there is no health danger.

Officials from the province's workplace safety and health division ordered the school closed on Friday until results from further tests deem it safe for children to return.

Deputy education minister Gerald Farthing said officials have launched a review to examine why the asbestos was stored at the school, how long it's been in the school's crawl space and whether the situation should have been handled differently.

"First of all, we don't think it should've been stored there in the first place, properly or not," he said Monday. "We want to make sure that every time we're dealing with asbestos in schools, it is handled in a safe and transparent way."

Farthing said provincial education officials will conduct the review with the school division, community and federal government officials.

Results from air, soil and surface samples taken from classrooms, the furnace room and the crawl space will be available in the coming days, Farthing said, and a Calgary-based engineering firm will conduct further testing on today.

"Right now, we have to figure out whether or not kids can go back to this school," he said.

Berens River Chief George Kemp said residents are particularly concerned because 60 children have sought treatment for respiratory illnesses in recent months, although no one knows whether the illnesses are linked to the school.

Frontier School Division chief superintendent Ray Derksen said the school will be closed until Jan. 7. He said asbestos remediation was done with renovations to the mechanical system, and the asbestos was stored according to regulations and was to be removed by winter road this year.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2012 A7

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