CFRC air quality under investigation

When Queen’s radio station CFRC volunteer Mike Cassells wrote a letter of resignation in November 2002 to Stu Mills, the station’s Operations Officer, it wasn’t because Cassells’ academic or extracurricular obligations were getting in the way of his volunteer work at the radio station, it was because he thought the station was giving him health trouble.

“There’s something in the air at CFRC that doesn’t like me,” Cassells wrote. “I have various mold [sic] and dust allergies and I’ve had problems with the station since day one but it’s just getting to the point where I just don’t want to come in anymore.

“In a nutshell I’m experiencing massive headaches whenever I do my show and they’ve been getting progressively worse. Up to this point I’ve just put up with it but I don’t think I can anymore.”

Cassells was one of two employees forced to leave the station because of health concerns in 2002. According to Mills, several employees at the station began suffering from health problems while volunteering at CFRC over the three years Mills has been a permanent staff member of the radio station.

CFRC is housed in the basement of Carruthers Hall, a building adjacent to the campus bookstore and across the street from Jackson Hall. Besides artists and others who visit the station for interviews, more than 80 people work at CFRC, including more than 75 volunteers, three full-time staff members and five part-time employees. In a letter dated December 3, 2003 and addressed to AMS Health and Safety Officer Greg McKellar, CFRC Programming Manager Sarah Miller outlined her concerns about the insulation in the building.

“One of our greatest concerns is the foam insulation that covers the walls of our three control rooms as well as the central studio space, Studio A. The insulation is a soft, woolly, white material that was installed to help soundproof the rooms. We estimate that the material was installed as long as 20 years ago ... [In] CFRC it has become discoloured and flaky. Small particles of it collect on the floor and on people’s clothing. The age and visual condition of the material give us reason to believe that it is a likely harbour of molds [sic] and other allergens.

“Because the material is open and of a loose, spun construction, there would seem to be no way to clean it.” Miller wrote.

Miller also suspected mould may be growing in the station’s record library, and said a strong smell of mildew fills the air at CFRC when it rains.

In response to Miller’s concerns, Director of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Dan Langham initiated the removal of mould—which was found to be hazardous— in the back hallway of the radio station.

EHS is currently in the process of a multi-stage investigation into the air quality at CFRC. Initial test results sent for analysis at Mississauga-based Pinchin Environmental showed no harmful materials. More results are due back in the next few weeks.

There is also asbestos in Carruthers Hall. According to Langham, however, a decision was made not to remove it.

“As long as [the asbestos] is intact, there’s no requirement to remove it,” Langham said.

According to Langham, “quite a few” of the buildings on campus, especially older ones, have asbestos. However as long as the asbestos is intact and encapsulated, it poses no danger to the buildings’ occupants.

According to Belinda Sutton, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Labour, “The building owner must maintain a record of the location of friable (capable of being crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder by hand pressure) asbestos in the building and advise the tenants or lessees of the location of the friable material and advise workers who may work in close proximity to the friable material and who may disturb the material of its presence.”

EHS keeps an asbestos inventory, listing all the buildings that house the material. EHS was unable to provide the Journal with the inventory as of press time.

According to Langham, most of the concerns regarding CFRC air quality were raised after the AMS took over the radio station in the fall of 2003. He said EHS has “no indication that [the basement of Carruthers Hall] is unsafe.”

McKellar wasn’t as confident about the state of the radio station.

“I am convinced by what Stu Mills has told me that there is reason to be concerned. Enough people have been complaining for enough time to indicate that something is not right over there.”

McKellar added that even though the AMS took control of CFRC from the University, the administration should still help clean up the radio station.

“There were health problems [at CFRC] clearly before the AMS took over. [The AMS takeover] doesn’t remove any responsibility on the part of the university.”

Robert Crawford, Dean of Student Affairs, said if health issues exist at CFRC, Carruthers Hall will be treated like any other university building, essentially meaning it would be the University’s responsibility to clean the facility.

However, McKellar was certain the situation would be resolved.

“Wisdom and concern for the Queen’s community are going to prevail,” he said.

“This is going to get fixed to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Last Thursday, EHS informed McKellar that a full written report would be presented to the AMS and CFRC once all air quality test results have been returned, but did not give a specific date.

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