On this page: Health and safety | Asbestos and health | Information about testing | Reopening timelines | Academics and research | Current graduate students | Graduate milestones | Fees | Investigation
Last updated March 23.
The risk is low. It is important to remember that the air test results were never above the regulatory threshold. These air tests were carried out in accordance with government specifications and the results met provincial and McGill safety standards. It was then determined that the area was safe for occupants. Tests of dust samples from surfaces can indicate whether asbestos was present in settled dust in a certain room, but the presence of asbestos in that dust does not demonstrate that there ever was enough airborne asbestos to exceed regulatory thresholds or pose a health risk.
The Government of Quebec’s information about asbestos and health notes that the “risk of someone having health problems associated with exposure to asbestos increases with the amount of asbestos fibers to which the person is exposed and the duration and frequency of the person’s exposure to asbestos fibers.” It also mentions that “Health problems associated with asbestos are rare in the general population”; they are more common in people who work with asbestos, such as in asbestos mines, factories that manufacture parts containing asbestos and the construction and demolition industries. This is because people in those jobs have a significantly higher chance of being exposed to higher concentrations over a longer period of time.
Why didn’t the University perform tests that could have determined the level of exposure for people?
Air tests can determine levels of asbestos, but only at a particular moment in time, not retroactively. The air tests taken on February 1 and 2 were compliant with the regulatory guidelines. Testing of dust settled on surfaces confirms only the presence or absence of asbestos, with no indication of the level. They do can provide information on whether asbestos might have been airborne at some time in the past.
The uncertainty in the situation could make you feel anxious. Resources to help are listed below. Please reach out if you feel upset or are struggling.
Resources for students
- keep.meSAFE Free, unlimited, 24/7/365 access to mental health support for ALL McGill students. Students will be triaged and then immediately connected to a professional counsellor through telephone or mobile chat (available in over 60 languages).
- Student Wellness Hub Students can call the Student Wellness Hub at 514-398-6017 to book an appointment with a counsellor, nurse, physician, and more.
Resources for staff
- Confidential counselling and other resources for employees are available through McGill’s Employee and Family Assistance Program.
While we await the results of the investigation, we have implemented layers of protection that will ensure the safety of faculty, students, and staff regardless of the source of contamination. These layers include:
- Closing construction zones off from spaces occupied by McGill faculty, students, and staff.
- Conducting weekly air tests in more than 35 areas throughout Macdonald-Stewart and Barton.
- Adding a full-time Construction Safety Officer to the site.
The first step in rebuilding trust is the University’s commitment to finding out what happened.
The Internal Audit Unit is investigating the events leading up to, and following, the detection of asbestos in these buildings, as well as the control processes in effect during the period of review. They will issue a final report directly to the incoming Principal and the Chair of McGill’s Board of Governors by the end of April 2023. The report will also be shared with the McGill community.
After the report is issued, we will hold another Town Hall to discuss the report’s findings and answer questions. If serious, significant questions remain unanswered following that investigation, the University will look into further ways to gather this information.
The second step is by implementing the layers of protection (outlined above) that ensure a safe return.
Asbestos was used in construction in many structures built in Quebec between 1930 and 1990, according to the Government of Quebec. Asbestos is a health concern if the fibres are inhaled, that is, if they are present in the air. “Materials that contain asbestos and are in good condition do not release fibres into the air and are generally safe,” according to the Government’s information. Dust that tests positive for asbestos is a concern because it means that asbestos could have been airborne at some point in time. In the case of the Macdonald-Stewart microvac tests, the fact that asbestos was present in the dust tested does not necessarily indicate that there ever was enough airborne asbestos to exceed regulatory thresholds.
According to the Government of Quebec’s information about asbestos and health, the “risk of someone having health problems associated with exposure to asbestos increases with the amount of asbestos fibres to which the person is exposed and the duration and frequency of the person’s exposure to asbestos fibres.” It also mentions that “Health problems associated with asbestos are rare in the general population”; they are more common in people who work in “asbestos mines,” “factories that manufacture parts containing asbestos” and the “construction and demolition industries.” This is because people in those jobs have a significantly higher chance of being exposed over a longer period of time and to higher concentrations.
Employees and students can complete and submit an accident, incident and occupational disease form to create a record of working in the building. For staff, the form goes to HR’s Benefits Office. For students, it goes to the Office of the Dean of Students.
Yes. The Government of Quebec notes that asbestos was used in many structures built between 1930 and 1990, and that although fibres present a risk when circulating in the air, “Materials that contain asbestos and are in good condition do not release fibers into the air and are generally safe.”
These buildings will continue to be carefully monitored, with regular air testing to ensure they meet all health and safety requirements.
The various messages on the building closures at Macdonald campus mention many different types of tests for asbestos. What is the difference?
The most important testing determines whether asbestos fibres are in the air or could have been in the air. These tests are important because asbestos is only dangerous if inhaled.
- Air sampling is conducted to see if there are particles that could contain asbestos in the air. Air sampling gives a snapshot at a certain moment in time.
- Wipe tests and microvac tests are different ways of detecting asbestos in dust settled on horizontal surfaces. Dust with asbestos is a concern because dust is made up of small particles that could be breathed in. Dust can show that asbestos has been in the air and has settled.
McGill’s Environmental Health and Safety office also uses a form of testing called “bulk sampling” on building materials (pieces of plaster or ceiling tiles, for example) that have become detached from their surroundings. As these materials have been damaged and could create dust, EHS tests these materials to determine if they contain asbestos.
- The Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) ordered air tests in the Barton building, which were performed February 1 and 2, 2023.
- All 11 air tests in Barton returned results below the regulatory threshold.
Testing of dust samples:
- Dust samples were gathered via microvac from horizontal surfaces in approximately 50 spaces in Barton.
- Out of 50 spaces tested, dust collected in two corridors and one staircase tested positive for asbestos; the other spaces tested showed no traces of asbestos.
- The Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) ordered air tests in the Macdonald-Stewart (MS) and Barton buildings. These tests were done on February 1 and 2, 2023.
- All 28 tests (17 in MS, 11 in Barton) returned results below the regulatory threshold.
Testing of dust samples:
- The EOC also ordered an initial testing of 41 dust samples in the MS Building, collected in areas that were close to links to the Raymond Building and areas where users had observed substantial amounts of dust.
- Ten out of the 41 areas showed presence of chrysotile asbestos.
- Based on these results, the Emergency Operations Centre ordered that all remaining spaces of MS and all spaces in Barton and Raymond be tested.
- Results for MS have been received: out of 308 samples, 22 samples came back positive (18 in closed rooms and 4 in common areas such as hallways or staircases).
This brings the total number of tests done in MS to 349, with 32 positive areas (20 in closed rooms and 12 in common areas such as hallways or staircases). Users whose office or lab tested positive are being contacted as of February 17, 2023.
Why did it take a week for McGill to release the results of the February 6, 2023 tests that showed positive asbestos results in Macdonald-Stewart?
The EOC felt it was important to have a clearer picture before releasing information. Relatively limited testing of a few areas was conducted on February 6 and some of these tests came back positive for chrysotile asbestos. Following that, the EOC decided to conduct testing of every room in the Macdonald-Stewart, Barton and Raymond buildings and present the results for the entire Macdonald-Stewart Building at one time, rather than in stages. As the building was closed to all but essential users, who were accessing it wearing PPE, this decision did not pose additional risks to occupants.
Samples of dust were collected from the floors as well as countertops, tables and other horizontal surfaces.
The official plans from the specialist consulting firm that conducted the testing are posted on the web (accessible to anyone at McGill with a quick log-in). As of February 22, 2023, floor plans for both the Barton and Macdonald-Stewart buildings are available. Raymond will follow. Please note that these may differ slightly in appearance from the internal working plans presented by Professor Labeau in his presentation on Friday, February 17.
On the floor plans showing the rooms that tested positive or negative, why do some areas appear white?
When the external consultants performed testing, these rooms were not accessible. We are now working to ensure that the consultants can access these rooms so they can be tested.
Air tests are the primary means used by the Government of Quebec to monitor workplace safety in construction situations where asbestos may be involved. Quebec’s Construction Safety Code (3.23.16 (12)) mandates that air tests must be under the threshold of 0.01 fibres per cubic centimetres after high-risk asbestos work is done. When McGill performs air tests, it requires that they meet this same threshold in all circumstances – not only where construction takes place.
Quebec's threshold in regular office/classroom situations is significantly higher (0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre), but McGill’s self-imposed threshold in all situations, applied as our safety standard across all University buildings, is the more stringent 0.01.
The buildings closed due to a combination of factors: a positive wipe test; damaged building materials containing asbestos; and reports of dust apparently related to construction. Though air tests on February 1 and 2 produced results within the safety threshold of 0.01 fibres per cubic centimetre, the EOC ordered dust testing in every room in Macdonald-Stewart, Barton and the areas of Raymond that were accessible during the renovation work.
When dust sampled from surfaces shows the presence of asbestos, it is cleaned under the appropriate protocols. Afterwards, ongoing air testing is the best tool to determine whether any asbestos is introduced into the areas.
- The Barton Building is completely open as of March 14.
- The Macdonald-Stewart Building is almost entirely open as of March 14, with the exception of the South wing of floor 1 of the Macdonald-Stewart building (map), which contains offices and labs within the Departments of Food Science and Bioresource Engineering that are still being cleaned. We are working to reopen these spaces in the coming weeks.
- The Raymond Building remains closed. We are working to reopen the building in the coming weeks.
Critical lab activities are being done in other facilities, to the extent possible. Efforts are being made to ensure key labs can still be done before the end of the term. Instructors will keep students notified, and Associate Dean alice.cherestes [at] mcgill.ca (Alice Cherestes) can be contacted to discuss additional details and options.
For graduate students, please discuss with your supervisor to establish a plan given the lost time. We hope that once the building(s) are re-opened, there can be a quick ramp-up to deal with lost time. For PIs, additional questions are to be directed to Associate Deansalwa.karboune [at] mcgill.ca ( Salwa Karboune) about key concerns around research continuity. There may be creative options out there. The Chemistry Department on the downtown campus is willing to make lab space available. Please contact anja.geitmann [at] mcgill.ca (Dean Geitmann) if this may be an option for you. Note, also, that PIs and key research personnel can get access to the building(s) if they have been appropriate fit-tested for PPE.
The Centennial Centre is open and most exams, including finals, are being done there. The expectation is that most assessments, especially finals, will proceed as planned in the course outline. Some exams (e.g. those happening now) may have to switch online - your instructor will provide details. Additional questions can be directed to Associate Dean alice.cherestes [at] mcgill.ca (Alice Cherestes).
The building closures will not delay graduation for students.
As a researcher, when I can’t get my full team into my lab, I’m losing money every day and productivity as the weeks go by – how will I be compensated?
That is something that will have to be discussed on a case-by-case basis. Please contact salwa.karboune [at] mcgill.ca (Salwa Karboune) for questions or a discussion.
The building closures are exceptional circumstances and as such, Profs can indeed change the modality or format of their classes, ensuring, of course, that learning outcomes and competencies are still met.
Given unknown timelines, it is recommended that such visits either be delayed, switched online, or scheduled to take place in one of the other buildings on campus.
Since the building closures I can no longer work in the lab. I am concerned about the delays this will cause to my experiments and research progress. Can I request an extension to my degree?
These are extraordinary times during which everyone has to adapt to new ways of working. Delays in data collection are likely unavoidable during building closures. We encourage you to use this time to make progress in reading the literature, revisiting old data and analysing new results, designing new experiments and working on writing manuscripts or parts of your thesis. Regular meetings with your supervisor and other members of your research group can be continued remotely.
If you are in the middle of your doctoral degree (PhD 4/5/6) and worried about completing your degree on time, rest assured that you will be able to make a request for an extension at the end of your degree. If the current closure has affected your ability to progress in your research and to graduate in time, it will be taken into consideration at that time.
If you are a Masters student whose data collection and research activities have been affected by the present situation, please email associatedeans.gps [at] mcgill.ca to describe the impact of the current measures on your timeline.
As noted above, although on-campus research has been ramped down, there are other ways of making progress towards your thesis. We encourage you to use this time to make progress in reading the literature, revisiting old data and analysing new results, designing new experiments and working on writing manuscripts or parts of your thesis. If you really are unable to work on your thesis remotely, a leave of absence may be an option. Please consult your Graduate Program Director for advice first.
International students reaching time limitation at the end of August 2023 can submit a request for extension to associatedeans.gps [at] mcgill.ca. All requests will be reviewed by an Associate Dean at GPS, and if needed, extensions will be granted for one term. Your request should be copied to your supervisor and Graduate Program Director, specifying the reasons for the request, and a timeline for thesis submission. Note that after your request for an extension is granted, you will remain registered and continue paying fees. If your study permit is about to expire, you must consult International Student Services for advice regarding renewal of your immigration documents.
Should I expect to receive guidance and feedback from my supervisor regarding my thesis work during university closure?
These are extraordinary times during which everyone has to adapt to new ways of working. Regular meetings with your supervisor can be continued remotely. Guidance and feedback can also be obtained via e-mail.
I am concerned about potential delays to my thesis in the current context. Will extensions be provided?
Initial thesis submissions continue to be processed and sent out for examination. We understand that in the current circumstances students may need additional time for submission. Therefore, the April submission deadline can be adjusted on a case-by-case basis. Please contact thesis.gps [at] mcgill.ca. Regular thesis submission guidelines should still be followed.
As an international student, I am concerned that my student visa will be expiring. What should I do?
If your study permit is about to expire, you must consult International Student Services for advice regarding renewal of your immigration documents.
Also, Keep.meSAFE is a mental health counselling service offered to students in partnership with SSMU and PGSS. It provides 24/7 access to licensed counsellors through telephone and mobile chat in more than 60 languages. To access this service, download the MySSP app in the Apple App Store or Google Play.
Even if the Macdonald Stewart, Barton and Raymond buildings are closed, Comprehensive exams as well as Progress Tracking and Supervisory Committee meetings can be held, as long as they are held online or moved to other buildings. The myProgress automatic notifications about upcoming milestones remain active.
How should we proceed with respect to Comprehensive Exams and Ph.D. Oral Defences in the current context?
Comprehensive exams and Ph.D. Oral Defences can be postponed without penalty to the student. As noted below, they can also be conducted online or be relocated to other buildings on campus.
Comprehensive Exams and Ph.D. Oral Defences can be conducted online using tools such as Zoom. The student must provide written consent. The Graduate Program Director should also discuss with the student any equity issues in this new environment (such as access to appropriate technology, internet connection speed, etc.).
Progress Tracking meetings can be conducted using online tools, such as Zoom. The meetings can also be held in other buildings around campus.
Will McGill reimburse for non-tuition fees to students whose courses moved online because of the 2023 building closures on Macdonald Campus?
When courses were moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior administration of the University defined principles to govern different categories of fees. For the Macdonald campus building closures, we are applying the same principles:
1. Non-academic services paid for individually (students and employees)
The first category is made up of non-academic services where a person pays for and receives a specific service, such as Fitness Centre membership, parking, etc.
Principle: Such fees will not be collected if services are not available. (Note that these individual services are different from ancillary services)
2. Ancillary fees (Students)
Ancillary fees are paid by students as a contribution to the general establishment and operation of a service, provide ongoing support for students throughout the year and are not associated with immediate or short-term activities associated with individual students. These include for instance the Student Services fee, the Information Technology charge, or the Athletics and Recreation fees. A list of ancillary fees can be found on the Society, services and administrative fees 2022-23 page on the Student Accounts website; some additional fees may apply to certain programs and faculties.
Although many courses offered at Macdonald campus have moved online temporarily, these services will still be operational, even if they are occasionally remote.
Principle: The fees are paid for the general operation of the service and will be charged unless the service is completely unavailable.
3. Course- or program-specific fees
Students may pay course- or program-specific fees as an additional fee for activities related to a specific course or program in which they are enrolled, such as laboratory supplies.
If any of the activities associated with these fees could not be held, or reduced, the instructor would have to evaluate what the reduced cost should be; the University can arrange to change the fees on these courses on a course-by-course basis.
Any possible reduction will be evaluated once the course is completed. For some courses, additional catch-up laboratory classes may be held, so supplies paid for by students may in fact be fully used.
Principle: If the activity for which a course- or program-specific fee is usually paid cannot be completed and no suitable alternative can be offered, the fee corresponding to the portion of the activity that cannot take place will not be charged.
Some students have argued that online education is cheaper to deliver and therefore the University should consider giving money back to students. It is true that a model of education delivery designed from the outset to be solely online can be less expensive to deliver because there are no costs associated with physical infrastructure. This is not the case at McGill, however, and the current situation is of course temporary.
Online delivery does not change the quality of education at McGill. Your degree will still be recognized worldwide by employers.
How do we know whether this situation was handled properly, and how can we ensure that it won’t happen again?
Interim Principal Christopher Manfredi has asked the Internal Audit team to investigate the events leading to, and following, the detection of asbestos at these buildings, as well as the control processes in effect during the period of review. Specific deliverables will include:
- An inventory of the actions taken, roles and responsibilities, and control processes relating to asbestos detection and management during the period of review.
- Verification that asbestos management processes and controls exist and are adequate to ensure compliance with McGill policies and procedures, as well as provincial standards and regulations.
To the extent possible, this investigation will document both the chronology of events and decisions that led to the detection and subsequent management of asbestos in the Raymond, Macdonald-Stewart, and Barton buildings, and project management processes relating to asbestos management and their application within these buildings.
This investigation is underway, and the final report will be submitted directly to incoming Principal Deep Saini and Maryse Bertrand, the Chair of McGill’s Board of Governors, by the end of April. The report will also be shared with our community, and another Town Hall will be held to discuss the findings, hear concerns, and address questions. If any significant, serious questions remain unanswered following the initial investigation, the University will explore further ways to gather that information.