By Natalie Sit
In every building, innocuous particles float through the air. While university students are not very susceptible to them, the elderly and children are more at risk.
Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 40 President Fred Latreille believes cutbacks to caretaking and maintenance lead to unhealthy schools and sick students. According to Latreille, for the past two to three years, downsizing by the Calgary Board of Education has affected maintenance, care and security. Latreille cited a Sept. 17 Calgary Herald article that quoted anonymous teachers who believe their respiratory health is suffering because of unclean schools.
"Every time [the CBE] needed a buck for instruction, they’ve taken it from our work," said Latreille. "It’s clear that dirty deteriorating schools make people ill; maybe they finally realize that instruction can’t be isolated from the physical plant."
CBE spokesperson Dave Pommer is aware of the allegations but said there is no proof.
"Our schools are healthy and safe and are cleaned to the best of our abilities," said Pommer. "We move students and staff from where they might be allergic."
Latreille and a CBE trustee will inspect schools starting Thurs., Oct. 12 for four hours a day over four days on surprise visits. On Tues., Oct. 17, CUPE will present a plan to the trustees, asking that extra money saved from the government’s new ECS funding be funneled towards caretaking and maintenance.
"During the ’96/’97 bargaining [round], we were returned a five per cent [wage cutback]," said Latreille. "But we’re still four or five years behind."
Latreille also cites inadequate training as another problem.
"Training is not like it used to be," said Latreille. "It was one year; now it’s three or four months and they’re not prepared."
According to Dr. Tang Lee, a University of Calgary professor of architecture in the Faculty of Environmental Design, the World Health Organization and the American Environment Protection Agency found 30 per cent of all buildings have air contaminants.
"They vary from gases, airborne particles [and] microorganisms like moulds, bacteria and fungi," said Lee. "Sufficient concentrations or combinations [of the pollutants] can affect someone’s health. We’re breathing in a chemical soup."
Air freshness guidelines are based on university students who are generally healthier than the elderly and young. In newer buildings, a loss of proper ventilation can be attributed to a desire to save energy. Buildings pump in less fresh air and heat it less. The synthetic fibres found in carpets and furniture give off petrochemical fumes which are trapped in airtight buildings. Older buildings avoid the problem of synthetic fibres as they are built with more natural materials, but toxigenic (or ‘poisonous’) moulds breed in stagnant water found in leaky ceilings and walls.
Latreille feels the funding framework should change in order
to prevent bigger problems in the future.