Children allowed to play on Weston School field again

·3 min read

Now that the sod has settled around Weston School, education leaders hope parents’ nerves will follow suit as the elementary building allows activity on its field after three years of restrictions because of lead contamination.

A soil remediation project at the Logan Avenue school, which began at the end of June, wrapped up last month and the school’s field has since reopened for community use.

“I’m super glad that it has finally been addressed,” said April Roller, a mother of two, including a Grade 1 student at Weston. “It took longer than it should have, but the kids are definitely a lot happier that they can finally go on the field, as of last week.”

Roller said some of her neighbours are skeptical about the work, given this isn’t the first time such a project has taken place, but she is hopeful.

The field was fenced off in September 2018, after it was revealed that a 2011 report on soil sampling results in Weston and other inner-city neighbourhoods — a document kept under wraps for years — had determined several parks and school areas had elevated levels of lead in the 1980s. The sites were measured again in 2007 and 2008 to determine whether additional remediation was required.

Canada’s soil-quality guideline for human health is 140 micrograms per gram. In some areas of Weston, levels exceeded 1,000 micrograms/g.

A history of emissions from traffic and nearby smelter plants that closed years ago are believed to be the cause. The removal of lead paint on outdoor walls and soil replacement has occurred in the past to address the issue.

A followup survey in 2018 found levels at Weston had generally dropped, but the overwhelming majority of samples still surpassed the guideline.

Citing the results of an independent analysis of the latest results, the province has repeatedly indicated the risk to the public is low. Community members, however, kept calling for additional work to address their concerns.

“If it weren’t for the community, parents and myself speaking out about the inequities for children at Weston School, I don’t think (the lead levels) would have been taken as seriously — because it has been an issue for 40 years,” said trustee Jennifer Chen, who represents Ward 6 in the Winnipeg School Division.

Chen has accused the province of dragging its feet on the issue because the school is in a low-income neighbourhood.

Earlier this year, the province earmarked $405,000 for remediation efforts. Manitoba Conservation approved the division’s plans, which included excavating the grounds, digging as deep as 12 inches, and re-sampling the soil.

Mile Rendulic, director of the division’s buildings department, said areas found to exceed guidelines were covered with a geotextile fabric to prevent leaching and covered with backfill, topsoil and sod.

“We have eliminated the possibility of someone being exposed — even though that risk was very, very low: you’d have to ingest (the contaminated soil),” Rendulic said, adding he believes the project was a success and should alleviate community concerns.

It is not anticipated any more work will have to be done to address the lead issue, although he suggested extra care will have to be taken on projects such as tree planting.

The initial closure of the field resulted in indoor recess. Students were later allowed to play on the tarmac during two separate recesses and when the grass was covered by snow in the winter, in the field area.

Father Mark Halarewich said he recently received a call from Weston’s principal informing him the field would be reopening.

“I’m happy,” he said. “The kids need a place to play.”

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press

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