Schoolchildren suffer harmful fumes
Officials finally take action after several school closures

by Chris Meyers Almey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 24/97) - A two-year-old fume problem plaguing Quoshuun Ilihakvik school in Gjoa Haven has been brought to a head by frustrated parents and local education board officials.

Public works officials had been informed of the problem but Wally Porter, chair of the district education authority, complained that "it seemed nobody was taking us seriously."

Fumes have long been blamed for causing eye and throat irritations in over 300 students and their teachers.

Pupils have been sent home numerous times and the school has been closed for extended periods three times this year, the latest shutdown running from March 20 to 27.

It took a flurry of phone calls after the last closure to put sufficient pressure on elected officials and GNWT public works staff from Cambridge Bay and Yellowknife to come to Gjoa Haven for a four-hour meeting on March 25.

When the problem started two years ago, public works personnel just kept blaming the fumes on water or sewage trucks, Porter said.

"My own eyes would be dried up and my throat as well. Other students and teachers had it worse ... with nausea and headaches...

"The fumes have been ongoing for a long time so we decided to close the school down to make them work on the fume problem."

Some people thought it was the school's boiler causing the problem, Porter said, but public works ruled that out and always pointed the finger at the trucks.

Monitoring the school's air was not done long enough in the past, Porter said.

Following the meeting this past week, an investigator remained behind armed with testing equipment to pinpoint the fume problem once and for all.

Parent Ken Garnham complained there were a lot of half day shutdowns but they went unrecorded.

"It took a lot of fighting to get the department of public works in to look at the damn thing. We stirred a lot of feathers."