Poor air quality at Montreal school sickens 10 staff members

Staff and students from École Baril have already been relocated twice because of concerns about air quality.

Ventlilation system was not cleaned in 40 years

The Montreal public health department says it would not have given the school board approval to move staff and students into to École Louis-Riel if it had seen a report on the air quality. (CBC)

At least 10 staff members at the École Louis-Riel in Montreal's Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood have fallen sick because of poor air quality, despite the fact the school has been forced to relocate two times due to concerns about the air.

Students and staff from École Baril moved into the École Louis-Riel building in mid-October.

In a notice obtained by Radio-Canada, Montreal's public health department urges the school board to rectify the situation.

According to the notice, the ventilation system in the current building has not been cleaned since the school was first built in 1973.

Excerpt from Montreal public health department notice

"This school has a long history of water leakages. The ventilation ducts were notably affected by these leaks and have never been cleaned since the construction of the school. On our visit we observed a fine dust on the surfaces. Staff members are presenting with health issues that are characteristically attributed to the presence of dust and contaminants associated with chronic water leakage."

In 2011, students and staff from École Baril were moved temporarily to another location, École Hochelaga, due to mould problems at their original location. The same issues were later found in the Hochelaga facility, forcing them to relocate again to École Louis-Riel.

Several people have had their health problems return since they moved to the Louis-Riel space, likely a result of contaminants in the air, according to Dr. Louis Jacques, of the public health department.

Jacques also said it's possible students may also be suffering from exposure to the poor air quality.

Montreal's health department got involved in the case in December after they visited the site and received a report on the ventilation system they said was dated April, 2012.

According to the health department, they did not receive the report until the end of December, long after the students and staff had been transferred to the Louis-Riel location.

The health department says it would not have given the school board approval for the new space in October if it had been aware of the air conditions.

But Daniel Duranleau, president of the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) said the report should not come as a surprise.

"The question of the ventilation system and the fact that it had dust inside it: these facts have been established. This is nothing new," he said.

The cleaning of the ventilation system, which began on Monday, is expected to last two months at a cost of $200,000. Officials say it should be enough to rectify the problem.

The school will remain open while the cleaning takes place.

As the staff and students deal with air quality issues in their latest of three locations, repair work on the original École Baril is on hold.

The CSDM, having invested $4 million in the school, is waiting for instructions from the ministry of education before it can proceed.


  • This story has been altered to correct the location of the École Louis-Riel, which is in Montreal's Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough, not the Rosemont neighbourhood. The name of the doctor referred to in this story as working with the public health department has also been corrected. His name is Dr. Louis Jacques, not Dr. Jacques Alain.
    Jan 28, 2013 2:42 PM ET