Nfld. & Labrador

MUN mould prompts move for geography prof

A geography professor at Memorial University says the campus building he works in on the St. John's campus might not be safe.

Students circulate petition to address asbestos, mould concerns in science building.

Memorial University geography professor Alistair Bath says poor air quality in his office is jeopardizing his health. (CBC)

A geography professor at Memorial University says the campus building he works in might not be safe.

Alistair Bath and some of his students fear that mould and asbestos could be harming their health. A petition to address those concerns in the science building on the St. John's campus is currently being circulated by students. 

Bath has been out of his office since July, when there was a flood and mould was discovered. Bath has been working out of a temporary space in the same building for four months.

"For my office, which is in [room] 2015 of the science building, aspergillus spores of a reading of 27,120," said Bath.

MUN geography professor Alistair Bath says he's moved out of his office in the Science Building to protect his health. (CBC)

In comparison, other offices had lower readings of several thousand spores.  

Spores from the aspergillus fungus are present virtually everywhere, and for the average person doesn't normally cause illness. However a person with a weakened immune system might be susceptible to aspergillus infection.

"I have a personal fear, for sure. I know that when I look up in the ceilings and see asbestos, when I see cracks in the hallway where there's possible leakage of asbestos fibres."

Although the mould has since been cleaned up, Bath discovered another problem.

"I phoned, and I said, 'Yeah, there's asbestos,' and immediately, emergency asbestos work was done," he said. 

Plastic covers on walls and ceilings, as well as signs warning of asbestos abatement are plastered on science building walls.

Geography professor Alistair Bath says mould was discovered in the science building this summer, and now crews are cleaning up asbestos. The building was built in the 1960s. (CBC)

However, Memorial University's director of health and safety Sheila Miller, said it is not unsafe.

"Health-wise it's not bad," Miller said.

"I mean, what you're seeing is many years of deferred maintenance, and if you were to walk around public buildings anywhere, you'd see the same kinds of issues."

Miller said the university is quick to fix any asbestos contamination and that people are not at risk.

As for a full air quality test of the building, Miller said it's not that easy.

"There's a whole process that people need to look at when you need to look at mould, where it is, and what it means. So, it's not as simple as saying 'we are going to do mould testing.'"

Despite Miller's reassurances, Bath is still not convinced.

"It seems like the university's plan at the moment is a Band-Aid approach on a cancer patient. In my own mind, our own health and safety has lost a lot of credibility. So there's a lot of trust and other, bigger issues that needs to be dealt with before we believe our own university health and safety," Bath told CBC News. 

Memorial University is planning on constructing a new science building, but no date has been given as to when that will be ready.

For now, Bath said he and his doctor feel it's best he doesn't stay in the same building, and will be moving to a nearby building soon. 


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