Teachers Suffering Exposure to Mercury seek Remedial Action from School Board

Numerous teachers are speaking out about a range of serious ailments they believe are associated with long-term exposure to vapours from mercury spilled in the science labs at Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook.
BCTF President Jinny Sims said she is deeply concerned about the health of teachers and students in the Cranbrook school. “We have scheduled a special meeting of the BCTF Executive Committee this Sunday to receive an update on the situation, and to explore ways we can help our members who are suffering from this occupational health disaster,” Sims said.
“The health of staff and students should be paramount,” said Cranbrook District Teachers’ Association President Chris Johns. “Yet we are facing frustrating delays from our school district.”
The CDTA has filed a grievance with School District 5, claiming that the employer has failed to provide a hazard-free workplace. Johns said some teachers have suffered such serious impairment of their health, they question whether Mount Baker Senior Secondary is a “sick” building.
Eight current and former teachers have tested with high levels of mercury and other heavy metals in their bodies. Four are on full sick leave. To date, more than 30 other teachers have indicated they wish to be tested for heavy metals, and more than 60 current and past school staff members have initiated claims with the Workers’ Compensation Board.
Last summer, an environmental consulting firm removed contaminated flooring and other surfaces from three classrooms and pronounced the levels of contamination and airborne mercury to be acceptable. However, recent research indicates that even very low levels of mercury vapour can pose health risks.
The Cranbrook teachers still have concerns about the clean-up process, which targeted only asbestos removal rather than mercury.
“We believe the board should accept its responsibility to pay for testing and treatment of staff members, seriously investigate the possible impact on students, and do a complete clean-up of the school,” Johns said. “We also have to question whether the school board should continue to allow teachers to work and students to learn in this building, which appears to be very unhealthy and unsafe.”
Sims said that from the perspective of the BCTF, the question arises as to whether Mount Baker Secondary is the only school with mercury contamination problems.
“Today we have a very different understanding of the hazards of mercury than we did in the past. Spills that happened years ago could still be quietly vapourizing in who knows how many science labs?” she said. “We’ve got to get a handle on this issue, because it could well be a much bigger problem than we have even begun to realize.”