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U of T responds to expert panel's review of Asbestos Management Program

An independent panel led by an outside expert has determined that the University of Toronto follows best practices and exceeds provincial requirements when it comes to managing asbestos. 

The three-person panel also found that U of T's Environmental Health and Safety staff were highly trained, qualified and competent. 

“Our top priority is the safety of our students, faculty, staff and all those who use U of T’s three campuses,” said Scott Mabury, U of T’s vice-president of university operations and real estate partnerships and vice-provost of academic operations.

“We share the community’s concern on this issue and we’re committed to be transparent as we make changes, improve awareness and increase education and outreach efforts.” 

The panel met with staff involved in the Asbestos Management Program and Environmental Health and Safety, as well as representatives of student and staff and faculty groups. They received written comments and were given time to conduct a thorough review before submitting their report on Feb. 22.

They made 10 recommendations involving oversight, education, exposure limits and communication. In its response, the university said:

  • It has already increased oversight of contractors who do work across the three campuses that may involve asbestos-containing materials. In future, the university will require contractors to take a standard approach to measuring asbestos levels.
  • U of T will more clearly articulate the roles, responsibilities and reporting lines of those involved in the Asbestos Management Program and health and safety. 
  • It will improve health and safety training for department leaders, managers and directors, as well as create a tool kit for new leaders so they are aware of their duties and relevant information on the environmental health and safety website.

Regarding the university’s asbestos management policy and related documents on the websites of the Office of Environmental Health & Safety and Facility and Services, the panel wrote: “Taken together, they are consistent with legislated provincial requirements, if not more restrictive in some places, and generally appear to be serving the university well.”

The panel also noted that U of T uses an internal “action limit” that is 50 per cent stricter than the province’s occupational exposure limit.

Read the panel's report and the university's response

The panel was formed in response to concerns about airborne asbestos in the Medical Sciences Building while it was undergoing major renovations. In early 2017, dust containing asbestos was found in lab-related rooms and the labs were temporarily closed, cleaned and tested. Subsequent air samples by an independent consultant showed the building was “safe for general occupancy.”

The panel's three members were chosen for their expertise. It was led by epidemiologist Jack Siemiatycki of the Université de Montréal, who has written over 150 peer-reviewed articles and sat on more than 100 national and international committees, including at Health Canada, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the World Health Organization. 

The other panel members were Andrea Sass-Kortsak, an associate professor in the division of occupational and environmental health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and Roland Hosein, an adjunct professor in the same division and former vice-president of environment, health and safety at General Electric Canada.

Asebestos was once widely used in construction materials such as sprayed fire-proofing, thermal insulation, ceiling tiles, floor tiles and electrical insulation. Due to the risks it poses to human health when airborne, it was phased out in most industrialized countries starting in the 1970s, and banned in Canada last year.

At the university, it is standard practice to remove asbestos-containing materials in the leadup to major renovations. U of T also keeps a detailed, publicly accessible database of locations where asbestos is known to be present.