Asbestos exposure in schools

Status: in progress


The primary goal of the study is to determine the potential for asbestos exposure in schools, and custodial worker awareness of asbestos. This will be determined in two parts; the first by conducting a walkthrough survey of Ontario school buildings and collecting surface samples, and the second by an online survey of custodial workers in Ontario schools.


This study was initiated by the Ministry of Labour because of concern about asbestos exposure in school buildings and the potential for increased risk of asbestos-related disease for custodial workers. The ubiquitous use of asbestos in Canadian schools built before 1975 has created a potential hazard. These 40+ year old buildings have asbestos containing materials (ACM) that may be deteriorating, and when disturbed these materials have the potential to become airborne and settle onto surfaces. Asbestos fibres on surfaces are an indicator that asbestos is not controlled. An additional concern with settled dust containing asbestos is that routine housekeeping or maintenance work has the potential to expose workers or further contaminate the building environment by re-suspending the asbestos fibers.
The information from this study will provide a better picture of the potential for asbestos exposure in schools with known or suspected ACM. Currently, there has been no study done in Canada regarding the potential for asbestos exposure in schools, as the primary focus for asbestos exposure has historically been in mining, construction, transportation, and manufacturing industries.


A field survey of at least 30 schools in four areas of the province will be conducted. The specific areas of study will depend on school board cooperation. Data collection in part one of the study consists of an initial walkthrough survey of schools to identify known and/or suspected asbestos containing materials and collect wipe samples from surfaces. Wipe sampling will be conducted to determine if asbestos dust and fibers are present, as they will settle and collect over time onto surfaces. Surface sampling is an effective method to determine the presence of asbestos without disturbing the asbestos containing material.

An anonymous online survey of custodial workers in schools across Ontario will also be conducted. The questions will gauge custodial workers’ awareness of asbestos hazards and health risks. The survey will also determine if custodial workers received appropriate training to work with or around asbestos and what policies and procedures are in place to reduce their exposure in the workplace. The survey will also capture any questions or concerns custodial workers may have regarding asbestos in the workplace.


The findings should provide general benefits to all schools, the Ontario Ministry of Labour, public sector unions and labour groups, as well as the Public Services Health and Safety Association and other relevant Health and Safety Associations. The wipe sampling information can be used to determine if current asbestos management programs are sufficient for controlling asbestos fiber release, or if more controls are necessary. The survey information can be used to develop improved asbestos training and work protocols if necessary.

Progress (updated February 2018):

This study commenced May 2016. Data collection, analysis and result dissemination for the first phase of the study is complete. We are now in the process of analyzing survey results.


Funding for this study was received from the Ontario Ministry of Labour.


Paul Demers: Principal Investigator (Occupational Cancer Research Centre)
Tracy Kirkham: Co-investigator (Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto)
Kim Litchfield: Collaborator (Public Services Health and Safety Association)
Sheila Kalenge: Study Coordinator (Occupational Cancer Research Centre)
Kim Finuliar-Beckford: Research Student (Occupational Cancer Research Centre)
Cancer Care Ontario