Students fume over roof repairs at W.L. Mackenzie Collegiate
Some have suffered headaches and vomiting due to tar-like odour from roofing construction.
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Students and teachers are raising concerns over roofing repairs at a North York school that they say have not only disrupted classes but are making some feel sick.
Sadie Young, a Grade 12 student at William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute, said tar-like odour from roofing construction have been so bad lately that some students are going home from school due to headaches and vomiting.
More than a dozen students stayed home Wednesday due to the ongoing repairs.
“It’s really hard to sit down and focus because there are so many interruptions,” Young said. “Between opening windows for fresh air, moving to a new class, and the tar smell, it’s not easy.”
Young’s father, Franklin, said last week he could smell the fumes from more than a block away from the school.
“It’s disconcerting in that the smell was really obvious and school is still being held,” he said. “I don’t blame the principal, or the staff at school, but they shouldn’t have scheduled this to happen during the school year.”
The construction is part of the Toronto District School Board’s ongoing roof repair project, taking place at various schools over three years. The repairs include heating asphalt in a roofing kettle and applying it using a specialized mop, which often generates odours.
TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said there are many more schools across the city on the list for roofing repairs in the upcoming months and years.
“We would love to be able to schedule all of this sort of work outside of school hours, but when you have 584 schools across the city, we just cannot book all roofing work to be conducted on weekends and holidays,” he said.
“There’s just not enough days in the year to do all the required roof work that needs to be done.”
Leslie Wolfe, vice president of the OSSTF Toronto Teachers’ Bargaining Unit, said staff have complained that fumes were making them sick and are questioning “why they had to continue work in circumstances where their health wasn’t being protected.”
An air quality test conducted by an independent investigator for TDSB showed that last Friday 11 of 23 classrooms recorded increased levels of asphalt fumes. Those levels were still below the Occupational Exposure Limit set out by Ontario’s Ministry of Labour. On Monday, all rooms tested were less than 10 per cent of the limit.
“It’s at school after school where they’re doing these roofing repairs and teachers and students continually get sick. This is an ongoing concern,” Wolf said. “Nobody should have to work under such circumstances. This is not acceptable.”
Bird said the board is trying to minimize the affects construction may have on students and teachers by moving classes away from where the repairs are taking place. He added that the board understands potential concerns and is working to reassure parents, students and teachers that the school is safe.
“We’ve had multiple air tests conducted, including today (Thursday), because we too want to make sure everyone is safe,” he said. “Not one result has been outside of safe parameters.”
Bird added that any students who miss school as a result of the construction won’t be penalized.
As part of the repairs, TDSB is taking several measures to reduce exposures, including keeping classroom windows closed, re-circulating the air and — when possible — conducting work outside of school hours.
However, during school hours last Friday, fumes entered the building causing an unpleasant odour. Young said it was so bad, her class called the vice-principal in to assess the situation.
“Some students and staff were affected and experienced some discomfort,” principal Marcia Diakun wrote in a letter sent home with students on Feb. 10.
Fire Services and TDSB staff were called and an air quality check was conducted to ensure it was safe for students to return to class.
In the meantime, Young hopes the constructions wraps up soon.
“I’m not looking forward to another four to six weeks of this.”