February 20, 2019

Arctic College students concerned about asbestos in residence

A couple of minor renovations are raising major concerns for students and staff at Nunavut Arctic College’s Nunatta residence in Iqaluit.

Nunatta residence is often referred to as the “Old Res” and it is one of the oldest buildings in Iqaluit. It was built in the early 1950s to house American air force crews.

Nunavut’s Department of Community and Government Services owns the building, which is undergoing renovations to remove mould and a front porch area while students and staff continue to use the facility.

​Jennifer Archer, the college’s co-chair for Occupational Health and Safety Standards, says staff and students are concerned for their health as the building contains asbestos.

“Basically most of the materials in this building actually contain asbestos and need to be treated as such,” she said.

Asbestos was commonly used in building construction until the 1970s. Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause respiratory ailments including lung cancer. The risk of exposure to asbestos is higher when the building materials are disturbed, such as during renovations and repairs. 

A report prepared for the Nunavut government in 2003 and obtained by CBC News details where asbestos is found in the Nunatta residence, including drywall, ceiling tiles, and vinyl flooring. It states that the asbestos-containing materials “do not currently pose a risk” but would if “the material was damaged … removed or repaired.” It also spells out how the asbestos should be removed.​

Archer says faculty members approached her about the renovations, which they felt contravened those standards.

​”There was no vapour barrier. There were no safety warnings put up; there were students and staff working in very close proximity,” she said. “There was quite a bit of dust being generated.”

The big concern for Archer is that she says workers on site didn’t seem to know they were handling asbestos.

The Department of Community and Government Services says it is aware of the asbestos, that it is contained and that students and staff are safe.

CGS says samples and air quality tests are now being done.

The department has had asbestos removed from other buildings in Iqaluit but the Old Res is the only place where people are living and working alongside the repairs.

Archer says some instructors have cancelled classes while renovations are underway.

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Arctic College students concerned about asbestos in residence