A toxic stench has returned to an Abbotsford elementary school, raising health concerns for parents, teachers and students.
The lingering smell became a problem soon after the property across from King Traditional Elementary was purchased by the fertilizer company 93 Land Company Ltd. in March 2017, according to parents at the school.
Ministry of the Environment inspection officers found the company was in violation of the Environmental Management Act for improper storage and importation of manure in October 2017.
The company has received three official warnings of non-compliance since that first inspection and was fined $20,000 on the third warning in November 2018.
“The waste storage facilities do not have air emission control systems to collect or treat dust and other potential air contaminants generated,” the most recent inspection report reads.
After the fine, the smell improved for the last half of the 2018 school year but has now returned, according to Sukhjinder Baer, a mother of two students at the school.
“My oldest daughter always brings her lunch back without eating and says, ‘I cannot eat Momma because of the smell,’” Baer said. “She hasn’t eaten her breakfast the last two weeks. She says even if she tries to eat something in the morning she feels nauseated later.”
Students immediately cover their noses after being dropped off by their parents in the morning, said Kam Rai, a father of a student at the school.
“[The kids] don’t deserve this and it’s counter-productive to them having a healthy memory of being a student,” Rai said.
Students and staff have reported headaches, nausea, breathing issues and sore throats from the smell.
Teachers made 15 WorkSafeBC complaints citing these symptoms from March 2017 to November in 2018, according to a board of education staff report from the same month.
“[The people running the company] really just don’t care, they’re in non-compliance and they’re continuing to operate,” said Shannon Gaudette, a parent at the school who has been trying to fix the problem for two years.
“Ethical businesses, if they’re in non-compliance would shut down operations until they were.”
Gaudette says the school’s administration and the district have been slow to react to parents’ concern. She organized a petition that was sent to the board of education in January 2018 and signed by over 300 parents, but she says she never received a response.
A school district staff report from November 2018 said the district was meeting with the owners to decrease the impact of the odour, undertaking air quality investigations, installing special filters in the school’s HVAC system and encouraging parents to contact the Ministry of Environment air pollution complaint line.
But parents were recently told by the school’s principal, Tyler Baruta, they cannot hand out the phone number of the ministry’s pollution complaint line on school grounds, according to several parents.
Gaudette said she was told by Baruta that the issue is “political,” and because the ministry’s pollution complaint line was not on a school district form, it couldn’t be distributed on school property.
“This is about the health and wellness of your students and your teachers,” Gaudette said. “It’s beyond me, it’s hardly political.”
Parents who send their kids to school on the bus may be unaware of the health risks to their children, said Josephine Leonard, a mother and lunch-hour supervisor.
“We are a public school – I feel that we have a right to share facts about the situation with other parents. It is completely baffling why the district and administration does not support us,” Leonard said.
Rai said if the smell is not improved soon he’s considering moving his daughter to a different school – at her request.
“She’s asked a couple times, and she has friends there,” Rai said.
The school district and 93 Land Company did not response to The News’s inquiry by the time of press.
Baer says her family is very upset with the school district and the issue should be taken more seriously.
“It’s not about my child, it’s not about one child, if it’s about school, then it’s about everyone’s children.”