Proudly Surrey: ‘We need to remove all asbestos from our schools now, period’

Rina Diaz

PROUDLY Surrey School Board candidates have called for an end to the Surrey School Board’s “asbestos encapsulation” policy of leaving lethal asbestos in schools, even after renovations, expansion or seismic upgrading.
“In January this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada was out of the asbestos business and that our nation’s extraction, sale and use of this toxic mineral was over. And yet, today, as a cost-saving measure, we are leaving this substance in the walls and ceilings of our schools. That is insanity,” said Proudly Surrey candidate Rina Diaz, who has been fighting for the immediate removal of asbestos from the schools her children attend in Newton.
Diaz, an active member of the District Parent Advisory Committee, chose to stand as a candidate, in part, because she says she was shocked by the indifference of elected provincial and local politicians to the ongoing presence of asbestos in Surrey schools, something actively supported and underwritten by both provincial and local policy.

“We need to remove all asbestos from our schools, now, period. In recent correspondence I received from the provincial government, Education Minister Rob Fleming’s office stated that we were in a funding crunch where we had to choose between earthquake safety and asbestos safety and so trade-offs had to be made. This from a government that recently approved $6 billion in corporate welfare for profitable petrochemical companies,” Diaz noted.
To save money, the BC government and Surrey School Board have a policy of “asbestos encapsulation” in which, even after renovations and upgrading, asbestos is to be left in existing structures.

“But even if this policy were effective and prudent, the policy is not being followed. I conducted my own investigation and discovered that while the policy requires that schools be checked for asbestos entering the air supply every six months, many schools have not been tested or inspected as many as three years” Diaz said. The policy also requires that all staff be briefed on the presence of asbestos, its location and its hazards but there is no available record that this has happened in any Surrey school. “Of course, that might be related to the fact that we have been contracting this work out, a practice we need to eliminate in this school district.”

In British Columbia, every construction site is required to have a toolbox meeting before each work day to go over the hazards at the job site. WorkSafe BC requires that a record of the issues discussed be kept as well as with the signatures of all who attended the meeting.

Dean McGee

“Right now, we have the opportunity to upgrade our facilities and infrastructure due to the rapid appreciation of residential property values. Who knows how long before our local real estate bubble pops? Before it does, can anyone think of a more important thing to do with our short-term financial windfalls than getting hazardous materials away from our kids?” said Diaz’s running-mate Dean McGee. “When elected, Proudly Surrey Trustees will initiate a full investigation using all the resources available to the Surrey Board of Education and the City of Surrey, including Worksafe BC. We will also initiate a complete investigation of all records and contracts pertaining to the monitoring of hazardous materials in Surrey Schools and facilities.”

“Completely eliminating asbestos from all our schools will cost money”, said Diaz. “Section 112 of the BC School Act allows for local boards to hold a referendum to raise additional funds that exceed that provided by the province. A successful referendum, combined with the revenue from a local levy on cannabis sales, will fund the costs associated with the complete removal of asbestos from all School Board facilities over the next four years.”