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Government replies to mould study

Feb 05 2012

The federal government is putting about $355 million a year into First Nations reserve housing, much of it earmarked for mould remediation, but it is up to chiefs and councils to administer those funds, an Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada spokeswoman says.

A University of Victoria study, published last month in the U.Sbased Journal of Environmental Health, found almost half the homes on reserves are mouldy and high levels of toxins are making people sick.

The study, led by UVic medical anthropologist Peter Stephenson, concluded that the problem amounts to a national crisis and a different kind of partnership is needed between the federal government and First Nations.

Aboriginal Affairs spokeswoman Genevieve Guibert said the department has provided an average of $155 million a year for housing. Over the past two fiscal years, $400 million has also been provided through Canada's Economic Action Plan, of which $22.5 million was used to renovate 706 mouldy homes.

"The provision and management of housing on reserve is the responsibility of First Nation chiefs and councils and, therefore, First Nation leadership and home occupants play an important role in preventing and remediating mould," Guibert said. "First Nations are responsible for allocating their own housing funds."

However, the UVic study concluded that funding is inadequate, forcing bands to choose between new construction and renovating poorly constructed and poorly maintained existing homes and, especially with a growing population, houses are often overcrowded and inappropriately designed.

A strategy developed with the Assembly of First Nations focuses on educating communities about the health risks of mould and how to prevent it, Guibert said. Mould is a problem in homes throughout Canada, but it is a more serious problem on reserves because of underlying conditions, Guibert said.

"These conditions include inadequate air circulation and ventilation, poor building site selection and drainage, inappropriate construction practices or materials and a lack of appropriate care and maintenance," she said.

First Nations are responsible for ensuring homes are built to code and inspected by qualified technicians, she said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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