High school in Langley, B.C., closed after asbestos discovery

Walnut Grove Secondary School in Langley, B.C., was built in 1990. (Google Maps - image credit)
Walnut Grove Secondary School in Langley, B.C., was built in 1990. (Google Maps - image credit)

Hundreds of students and school staff in Langley, B.C., are starting spring break a day early after the discovery of a hazardous material following a flood earlier this month at Walnut Grove Secondary School.

On March 1, the drama room at the school, which has around 2,000 students and 200 staff, was flooded. Contractors brought in to do restoration discovered a type of insulation in a floor that was tested and confirmed to contain asbestos.

In a release, the district said a reported sample indicated the presence of "a type of asbestos that is hazardous when airborne."

Exposure to asbestos, such as breathing in the fibres, can cause cancer in people many years later.

The Langley School District said contractors took measures to contain the materials and seal off the room. The school shut down its HVAC system in the affected wing, and confirmed that air filters would remove the asbestos fibres from the air.

The district says it contacted WorkSafeBC to conduct an inspection.

School built in 1990

The school was open to students and staff on Thursday with its west wing closed, but a decision was made at noon to close the school and send students and staff home to better facilitate testing and work by contractors.

The school was closed Friday for more air testing.

The district said in a statement that it decided to test all learning spaces in the school, "beyond the expectations of WorkSafeBC."

"The health and safety of students and staff continues to be our priority," the statement said.

WorkSafeBC said in an email to CBC News that it was notified about the situation on Thursday.

"An occupational hygiene officer attended the school," it said. "The officer issued a stop-work order pertaining to potentially affected areas of the school until the risk is assessed and all immediate hazards are controlled."

On its website, the workplace safety agency says if asbestos is found, "the law requires employers to hire a qualified abatement contractor to remove it. A qualified person must also certify that the worksite air is safe, following the completion of the asbestos removal work."

The district said it would provide an update to staff, students and families before the end of spring break on March 26.

Walnut Grove Secondary School was built in 1990. That same year, asbestos was banned in Canada for use in vermiculite insulation.