Quebec woman says mould in classroom made her sick

A West Quebec woman who says she got sick working in a mouldy school portable is fighting to get her medication covered by the province.

Carmen Griffith says she was denied workers compensation

Mould causes illness

10 years ago
Quebec woman claims mould in portable made her sick and she wants to sue. 4:29

A West Quebec woman who says she got sick working in a mouldy school portable is fighting to get her medication covered by the province.

Carmen Griffith ran the after-school program at Chelsea Elementary School for more than a decade before the school board in 1999 moved her office into a portable classroom attached to the school.

After four years at the new site, she started to become ill.

"My doctor just kept giving me medication and I kept taking medication," Griffith said. "I had puffers ... a yellow, an orange — I've had them all.

"None of them seemed to be working for me, nothing was working for me."

Mould found in portable walls

Her doctor said he could not figure out the problem, but in 2006, he wrote a letter on Griffith's behalf to Quebec's workers compensation, saying maybe the school environment should be investigated.

The next year, the West Quebec school board hired a company to test the air quality in the portable. The tests found a high number of mould spores "known to be potentially toxigenic," reported the company, InAir.

Carmen Griffith says she was rarely ill before her office was moved into a portable later found to have mould. (CBC)

Black mould was found underneath wallpaper covering the wall behind Griffith's desk.

In a letter to the West Quebec School Board, InAir said the portable was a risk for the health of the students and educators.

"It would be irresponsible to return an employee that has already developed a health risk," they wrote.

The portable shut down in 2008.

Specialists found mould in lungs

Griffith had become so ill by the time the portable was investigated that she spent most of 2007 on disability. She said she had pneumonia, a severe respiratory illness and a cough that made her body ache and was constantly tired. She retired at the end of that school year.

Lung specialists found mould in Griffith's lungs. One of her doctors, environmental medical specialist Jennifer Armstrong, said the classroom portable likely made her sick.

"It became clear she was well before the situation and as she spent more time in [the] building, she became more and more disabled," she said.

Armstrong said in Ontario she's seen several teachers and students made sick by mould, but said there has been only a single successful case against an employer.

Griffiths lost her benefits after she retired but still needed prescription medication for her illness.

Workers compensation benefits denied

She has spent the last five years trying to get these expenses covered by the CSST, Quebec's workers compensation agency.

The agency has denied the link between Griffith's illness and the conditions in the portable and earlier this month gave her 45 days to appeal the decision.

The West Quebec School Board said it does take the health and safety of staff seriously but won't comment on Griffith's case.

"I'm very upset that the system let me down," Griffiths said. "I feel the system could have done more for me, I really do. It's maddening."