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Parents protest west-end school’s ‘toxic’ tar roofing

A group of concerned parents held a demonstration on Monday to protest a TDSB decision to permit tar roofing repairs during school hours at a Toronto west-end school, which they say is noxious and giving their children headaches and nausea.

The protest began at  8 a.m. in front of Ossington/Old Orchard Junior Public School at 380 Ossington Ave., between College Street and Dundas Street West.

Last year, the school board struck a deal with AMP Solar Group Inc. to install solar panels at 311 schools that would generate power for about 4,250 Toronto homes, and as part of that deal the company would repair badly needed repairs atop school roofs at some 32 schools.

The repairs began at the Ossington school on Thursday and the concerned parents say the tar kettle where the tar is heated emits some serious fumes. “A number of kids were sent home with complaints on Thursday and Friday,” said parent Heidi Pyper. Her daughter complained of a sore throat but her classmate “felt she had been punched in the throat,” she said.

“I cannot believe that they are taking this cavalier attitude about our kids’ health,” she said.

Pyper added that parents have been told the work could continue for another two weeks. A “number of families” opted to keep their kids home on Friday and some with asthma had to use their puffers as did several teachers.

Parent Sandy Pedrogao, who has two children at the school, told CityNews in an email, “They have advised that we tape off some of the doors and not open the windows (this will be terrible with the weather forecast for next week).” The forecast is for 28 C on Monday.

The board said on its website that there are no long term effects from the tar fumes, that people with respiratory problems should avoid the exposure to the fumes and that the symptoms will go away once the exposure ends.

TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird added the city’s public health inspector visited the site and didn’t identify any health-related issues.

To address the parents’ concerns, the school will take extra steps to reduce the odour and increase ventilation, he said.

“The building’s ventilation system will be run at all times when the kettle is not on, workers will take their lunch at the same time as students to ensure work is not being done while students are outside and windows will be opened when possible to ensure fresh air is circulating into the building,” he said in an email.

The concerned parents are demanding the school delay repairs until after school hours, evenings, weekends or during the summer break.

As part of the protest, parents say they will keep their children at home on Monday and are urging other parents to do the same to send a strong message to the school board “that it is not acceptable to be doing this roof work during school hours.”

“We want to make a statement to the TDSB,” Pyper said.

The parents have also started an online petition, which has 149 signatures.

But Bird said the roofing repairs must be done during the day and in good weather and that they cannot be limited to weekends or summer because of the sheer volume of repairs needed at the schools.

He added, “Workers were at the school on Saturday to get as much done as possible and work is expected to be completed by this Thursday at the latest.”