Calgary

Teacher's lung disease death prompts U of C building worries

Some University of Calgary employees fear they're working in a 'sick building' after a colleague recently died of a lung disease.

But officials say Craigie Hall air quality not compromised by asbestos

Craigie Hall at the University of Calgary was built about 50 years ago, when asbestos was still in common use. (CBC)

Some University of Calgary employees fear they're working in a 'sick building' after a colleague recently died of a lung disease.

They are concerned they might have been exposed to asbestos during renovations at Craigie Hall, a 50-year-old building on the south side of the campus.

Amelia Labbe, who ran the Spanish centre in the building, died last November of pulmonary fibrosis — a scarring of the lungs.

Her husband John Labbe said doctors didn't determine what caused the disease, but he believes it was her work environment. 

"The 2003 renovation — I believe all the dust and everything is what got her. But it's only a suspicion," he said.

Craigie Hall is included in the university's 2006 asbestos management plan, which flags, among other things, the ceiling and floor tiles in the building.

Amelia Labbe, who ran the Spanish centre at Craigie Hall, died last year of pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease. CBC (CBC)

Rachel Schmidt was head of the French, Italian and Spanish department at the time. She also has questions about a renovation project to remove the asbestos.

"Ceiling tiles and accumulated dust from the ceiling space had spilled into the work area and had basically resulted in air quality in which those of us who were within the entire wing could not breathe," she said.   Schmidt eventually shut down the department for a few days until the debris was cleaned up, but she says the dust lingered.

Labbe said his wife was worried. "Basically she came home. She was angry. She said ceiling tiles were coming down, the room was full of dust," Labbe said.

The university declined interview requests from CBC News, releasing a statement instead saying that air quality tests show employees are not being exposed to asbestos in Craigie Hall.

Officials say they are now doing another review of air quality.

Schmidt said no one warned her during the renovations that there might be asbestos in the building, which was built when the cancer-causing substance was still widely used as insulation.

"I think that we need an honest accounting from the university as to where the asbestos was at the time of these construction projects," she said.

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