McGill University members want the government to investigate the presence of asbestos in several buildings on the Macdonald campus, the discovery of which in February forced a hasty closure following renovations.
Posted at 5:00 am
The facility’s leadership met with the university community Friday to take stock of the presence of asbestos discovered following the renovation of the Raymond Pavilion on the Macdonald campus. Two other interconnected pavilions, the Barton and Macdonald Stewart buildings, also closed in early February.
But the university’s explanations don’t please Sean Cory, president of the institution’s Association of Research Employees.
“We still have a lot of questions about what happened because these buildings are known to contain asbestos,” he said. And McGill didn’t explain why it aired. »
If it happened here and they found out by accident. What tells us it hasn’t already happened in the past? Or will it not happen again?
Sean Cory, President of the Association of Research Employees at McGill University
The Macdonald campus is located in an agricultural sector of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, a town on Montreal’s West Island. On Saturday mornings, students and staff go in and out of the entrance to the brown brick buildings in the tradition of Anglo-Saxon campuses. Equipped with protective masks, they must ensure that research continues between these walls despite everything, La Presse noted.
“I think we got very good support from the university,” said 30-year-old doctoral student Noura Alsarawi on site. According to her own statements, she is not worried about her health with her mask.
“I don’t know much about it, but I have the impression that the university is doing what it can to ensure our safety,” agrees Christina Lozi, a staff member who takes care of the mice and fish used in the search are determined.
A bigger problem
“Any work designed to displace asbestos or aim to remove asbestos must be conducted in accordance with the standards that govern that type of work,” the university’s media relations department confirmed to La Presse McGill.
However, the university did not explain how the mineral could have ended up in the three pavilions in this case.
The situation at McGill University is reminiscent of the deaths in 2020 and 2021 of two University of Montreal (UdeM) employees from cancer linked to exposure to the mineral.
The presence of asbestos and the asbestos remediation work carried out at UdeM over the years were responsible for these deaths, the Commission on Standards, Equity, Health and Safety at Work (CNESST) ruled.
Last Wednesday, Mr Cory sent an email to the Department for Higher Education denouncing what he believed to be a lack of transparency at McGill University. He also called for an investigation to be launched into the presence of asbestos at Quebec universities.
“I think we have to deal with this situation more comprehensively and not just solve the problem in these pavilions,” he said. For example, perhaps buildings containing asbestos should be inspected more regularly. »
“Below Regulatory Thresholds”
McGill recently received the results of 28 air quality tests conducted this month in the Barton and Macdonald-Stewart buildings, the university said via email. In all cases, “the regulatory thresholds have been complied with,” she argues, without giving any further details on the level of these “thresholds”.
“We are encouraged by the preliminary results, which have not revealed any data of concern to date,” the university continues.
The concept of “threshold” of exposure to asbestos is controversial. Last April, CNESST lowered the exposure standard for asbestos1 in Quebec’s air to 0.1 fibers/cm3.
“For CNESST, asbestos means zero tolerance, and the adoption of this exposure standard for airborne asbestos concentrations is part of that important goal,” said Handbuch Oudar, the organization’s president and CEO.
Previously, the standard in Quebec was 1 fibre/cm3, which is “100 times higher than that prevailing in the Netherlands, Switzerland and France and 10 times higher than the standard of the European Union (IFA) and other Canadian provinces (Carex Canada) ‘ according to the website of the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec.
“The health and safety of our community is our top priority,” says McGill University. Once the test results have been submitted to us and decisions have been made on the actions taken to resolve this issue, we will update the community. »
But for Mr Cory, “there is no safe threshold for asbestos. The only acceptable level should be zero as any amount [de fibres] in the air, it’s too much”.
The dangers of asbestos
Airborne asbestos fibers can cause chronic lung diseases such as mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs or organs in the abdomen), lung cancer and asbestosis. “Any exposure to asbestos can cause health problems. The more a person is exposed to asbestos, the more likely they are to have health problems,” according to the Quebec government.
90 Number of asbestos-related deaths out of the 116 occupational disease deaths in Quebec in 2020
Source: Commission on Standards, Equal Opportunity, Health and Safety at Work