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Gloria Lucas died on the last day of school.

The 58-year-old caretaker, who had worked in Toronto schools for more than 20 years, was cleaning the bathroom at Alexander Stirling Public School on June 24, 2002, when something went badly wrong.

She emerged from the bathroom and grabbed a co-worker. She couldn't breathe, she said.

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Although she may not have known it, a corrosive chlorine gas released as a result of mixing a toilet-bowl cleaner and a bleach-based cleaning product were consuming her lungs.

She died of acute chlorine gas intoxication.

Yesterday, the Toronto District School Board pleaded guilty to violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Mr. Justice Robert Bigelow of the Ontario Court of Justice imposed a fine of $150,000.

The TDSB admitted it failed to ensure Ms. Lucas was properly trained in the safe use of these chemicals.

Tony Brown, a lawyer for the TDSB, refused yesterday to discuss Ms. Lucas's training.

"We're not going to go into the details of what training she did or did not get," Mr. Brown said. "She may have had training, she may not have had adequate training. That's pure speculation. What's important is that she mixed the chemicals and now we have the consequences."

The ruling doesn't satisfy Ms. Lucas's daughter, Cheryl.

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"I don't really feel any answers have been given to the family. Who is really responsible for this accident?" she said. "How this could have happened to someone who worked for the school board for more than 20 years."

Prabhu Rajan, a lawyer for the Ministry of Labour, said there is no direct evidence that Ms. Lucas mixed the chemicals. Firefighters on the scene reported smelling chlorine in the air and seized two cleaning products. One was similar to household bleach and contained sodium hypochlorite, the other was a liquid toilet-bowl cleaner that contained hydrochlorite.

Cheryl Lucas said her mother would never have knowingly mixed the two chemicals together, and said she may launch a civil suit against the school board.

Chris Broadbent, health and safety manager for the TDSB, said that after Ms. Lucas died the board decided to remove all bleach-based compounds used in its facilities.

But Ms. Lucas's union said the board still isn't serious about safety.

Bill Young, health and safety representative for CUPE Local 4400, said Ms. Lucas hadn't been given any refresher training in chemical handling since 1989. Safety guidelines require retraining in chemical handling every two years.

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"If Gloria had the up-to-date WHMIS [Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System]training, she might be alive today," Mr. Young said.

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Demographics Reporter

Joe Friesen writes about immigration, population, culture and politics. He was previously the Globe's Prairie bureau chief. More

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