Toronto District School Board says there is “no risk” to their tenant who discovered she and her staff may have been exposed to asbestos in an office they lease from TDSB. Janet Sherbanowski, director of The Crime Prevention Association of Toronto (CPAT), alleges that TDSB knew of the presense of the hazardous substance since 2008 but failed to disclose this knowledge. Toronto Standard reviewed a set of leaked labs reports conducted by TDSB that revealed a “presumed presence” of Chrysotile asbestos in the vinyl floor tiles at 17 Fairmeadow Avenue that could potentially prove harmful.
An occupational hygienist and a health and safety inspector from the Ministry of Labour met with Janet Sherbanowski at 17 Fairmeadow Avenue to conduct an air quality test on Tuesday evening earlier this week, and according to a Toronto District School Board email statement the surveillance met occupational health and safety standards. The hygienist measured air quality, but did not test for harmful amounts of asbestos materials in the floor tiles where previous reports suggested there are presumed quantities.
“The test result indicates there is no reason to be concerned with regard to asbestos being present in the air of that classroom,” the TDSB statement read. “There is no risk with regard to the use of classroom by the tenant or any of its staff. As the tenant has indicated it intends to take legal action against TDSB it would not be appropriate to make any further comment.”
Chris Bandara, industrial health and safety inspector from the Ministry of Labour remained tight-lipped about the air quality test but did confirm it had met occupational health and safety standards. “We are studying the situation,” he said. “The investigation is still ongoing. We can’t reveal anything about the test while the investigation is still going.”
Two days ago, Sherbanowski was informed by the 17 Fairmeadow building caretaker that the Crime Prevention Association of Toronto (CPAT) had been evicted from the office because of a lease violation. She received no letter or confirmation from her TDSB landlord. Sherbanowski said CPAT’s lease agreement states that the tenant is responsible for replacing fixtures and furnishings and claims, the carpet she ripped up in August was well within their right (according to her lease agreement) as a tenant.
According to a TDSB Health and Safety Report dating back to 2005, the Toronto Parent Network inspected 472 schools and found 16.5 per cent (a total of 78) reported exposed asbestos. The TSDB report revealed the cost of maintenance backlog was $595 million (2001) and grew to $774 million (2004), then $960 million in 2005. The projection for 2008 was estimated to grow to $1.4 billion. The report also found most schools are operating with too few caretakers to maintain the basic standards. Asbestos removal estimates are yet to be conducted at room 206, but some environmental contractors can charge up to $400 per hour to excavate the hazardous material; then there’s packaging and dumping of the waste. The TDSB sent Sherbanowski a letter during the week advising her they would remove the asbestos in the floor, but CPAT must pick up the tab.
The difficulty for Sherbanowski and her office is: how do you determine how much asbestos exposure is harmful? During August, when they ripped out the carpet, how much airbourne asbestos material did they consume (if any) and how will that effect them in 20-30 years? It may prove harmful; it may not have any affect at all. According to the World Health Organization, there’s no benchmark for asbestos exposure, simply because of its hazardous nature, but it also affects people dissimilarly. Someone could be working in or near an asbestos environment for 30 years and not be diagnosed with any type of lung disease; on the flipside, you only need to inhale a lilliputian amount in a short period of time for it to be considered harmful. When asbestos is settled and packaged tight, you are not at any risk. When you disturb asbestos and it becomes airbourne, as may have occured when Sherbanowski pulled up her carpet in August, that’s when the potential for risk increases.
But maybe there is justification for TDSB to not reveal their lab reports to CPAT? Perhaps, they consider their findings to pose no risk or harm to their tenants. If so, and this is potentially not a big deal, why then, did they not advise CPAT of the 2008 Golder Associates report that indicated presumed amounts of asbestos existed inside their room? We know they have the ability to communicate, they sent their caretaker to deliver an eviction notice to CPAT earlier this week, but why couldn’t they inform them of their asbestos findings or educate them on the health and safety protocol of the hazardous waste?
Sherbanowski is now reporting the asbestos exposure to the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) to have this situation documented. “They (TDSB) have been cavalier about it all. This needs to be recorded and documented just in case there is potentially any exposure,” she said. “The idea is, you get rid of potential hazards. We work to prevent things from happening. But, this, this doesn’t sit well with me at all.”
Justin Robertson is a freelance journalist from Toronto. His work has appeared in The Walrus, National Post and Toronto Standard. Follow Justin on Twitter @justinjourno