Professor says more emphasis needed on health and safety
CORNER BROOK People who had been using Grenfell facilities or who were visiting the university on Oct. 11 or 12 and experienced any ill effects are being asked to see their doctors.
The west coast campus of Memorial University has been getting an overhaul to its gymnasium. Last October, some chemicals were being used on the floor, which created hazardous fumes. Unbeknownst to people at the time, they were being spread throughout the building — specifically to the swimming pool and change rooms area — through its exhaust system.
Once the extremely high toxic levels were noticed on the second day, people were asked to leave the premises. However, a number of people had reported dizziness and nausea, which led to the discovery.
Work resumed in early November, with the ventilation issue inside the university resolved. The exhaust was sent outside the gymnasium into the adjacent cul-de-sac. But the fumes were dispersed through the parking lot and into the nearby offices of staff where there were open windows and intake ducts.
A number of staff reported illnesses — mainly dizziness, nausea and headaches — says Gerard Curtis, a representative of The Memorial University Faculty Association.
Jim Duffy, a professor at Grenfell, was one of those exposed in early November. He said he spent two long days working in his office, which is located off the cul-de-sac where the fumes were released.
He noticed a tingling or numbing in his lips late in the second day, something that concerned him, but no other signs of anything wrong. He also can’t recall noticing any odors.
After finishing up his work, he headed home to Humber Village. During the drive, he noticed he could not keep his vehicle in one lane. He was confused, attributing it to the wind that day, but realizing he had driven in such conditions before without a problem. When he arrived home, it took him several attempts to back into his s-shaped driveway — something that made him very frustrated.
He thought he was suffering from some kind of medical issue, and was afraid. It was not until he spoke with another faculty member that they realized what happened. He is thankful that nothing serious happened to himself or another as a result of his impairment.
Although he has felt better since, Duffy has an appointment with his doctor for a further check up.
Duffy said administrators were immediately concerned, and the problem was resolved. However, he does not think it was handled appropriately. He said when there is a problem as severe as this, faculty, staff, students and the public need to be notified immediately.
“It seems they were either ducking it or they weren’t thinking about it,” he said. “I don’t know if they were worried about legal consequences, I don’t know if they were worried about (public relations), but those should not have been what was foremost in their mind. It should have been the health of the public, the health of the employees.”
He said more emphasis needs to be placed on health and safety at the university.
Curtis also says the situation was handled poorly from a number of standpoints, but he places blame on no one person or group in particular.
His first priority is to inform people who may have been in the facility in October. He said there is a potential they were exposed and, if they remember experiencing ill symptoms, they should consult a doctor.
Although, he believes all faculty and staff who reported symptoms appeared to be fine after some time had passed, Curtis said there is still a concern about any long-term effects of the still relatively unknown toxic chemicals that were in the air.
“The levels we are looking at in the pool and surrounding area, the air quality reports are more than 100 times the recommended levels where you begin to notice it,” Curtis said.
The faculty association representative also expects they will file a grievance, using the language of their contract, to ensure any similar situations are handled better in the future.
“It doesn’t help with what’s in the past,” he said. “Our concern is with the faculty and the public, staff and students and the kids who were in that pool is a major concern.”
He said better practices should have been followed from the onset — ideally, the facility should have been closed during the project. He said it was nothing deliberate, but that somebody should have been aware of the exhaust system.
It is befuddling, says Curtis, how after the first incident, there wasn’t more caution taken to ensure there would be no further problems.
A request was made for an interview with Grenfell administration, but was not granted as of press time.
* Last sentence edited to clarify *