17 March 2021

Government releases list of 76 public schools with hazardous materials

| Dominic Giannini
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Yarralumla Primary School

Lead dust contamination was previously found at Yarralumla Primary School. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The ACT Government has released the full list of 76 public schools that contain hazardous materials across the Territory, but the government maintains that all schools are safe and that the situation is being appropriately managed.

There were originally 69 schools on the list, but a further seven were added recently after paint with very low levels of lead were discovered. The seven schools were missed in the original tests as the lead levels were so low at around 0.6 per cent.

In total, there are 89 public schools in the ACT.

Maintenance works were conducted at 46 public schools over the last school holidays and low levels of lead dust contamination were discovered at six of them, but none were in teaching or learning areas, Education Minister Yvette Berry said.

“Lead paint and hazardous materials exist all throughout our community. Lead is a naturally occurring substance, many of our homes in the ACT contain lead paint and bonded asbestos,” she said.

“We all know they are hazardous materials if they are disturbed but if they are managed appropriately, guided by experts, then they are safe.”

This was reinforced by lead and environmental contamination expert Professor Mark Taylor who said that the risk from the paint had been inflated.

Education Minister Yvette Berry

Education Minister Yvette Berry said the Government has been transparent throughout the whole process. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Mr Taylor said that the risk had been adequately managed in the ACT and likened the risk of lead paint to the risk posed by lead in car batteries, with there being little risk of exposure.

“For that hazard to become a risk, something has to happen in between for that hazard to get inside people’s bodies,” he said.

“You have a lead-acid battery in your car that contains hazardous materials but there is no exposure risk unless you break the battery and remove the lead and start smelting it.

“In the ACT, it has been addressed, it has been cleaned up and there is no evidence of that translating to any risk of harm.”

Ms Berry had previously refused to make the list public, saying that all parents and members of the school community could access bespoke information about the management of hazardous materials at their school at the front desk.

Addressing the media on Tuesday (16 March), an agitated Ms Berry chastised her Opposition counterpart, Jeremy Hanson, for fearmongering, saying it was “incredibly unfair” and “disappointing” that he would imply schools were unsafe.

Mr Hanson said the government’s response has been “slow and inadequate”, adding that the full list needed to be released to give parents “peace of mind”.

Shadow Education Minister Jeremy Hanson

Shadow Education Minister Jeremy Hanson criticised the Government’s handling of hazardous materials in public schools. Photo Dominic Giannini.

Ms Berry said the Government had already been transparent, constantly repeating that “the schools are known”.

“There is no secret,” she said. “School communities who have hazardous materials have access to information about those hazardous materials within our schools, that has always been available, there is no secret there.”

However, Ms Berry did not directly answer questions about why she did not release the full list sooner if the government wanted to appear more transparent, only saying that she was fearful of this situation where Mr Hanson “comes out and suggests there has been some secrecy”.

“There hasn’t,” she said.

Mr Hanson threatened to access the information via freedom of information laws. A freedom of information request for the list was already due at close of business on Wednesday (17 March), a day after Ms Berry said she would release the list.

The full list of schools with hazardous materials can be found below.

List of schools with hazardous material
The list of 76 schools with hazardous materials

The list of 76 schools with hazardous materials. Image: ACT Education.

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Capital Retro9:57 am 18 Mar 21

Let’s see now. About 20 years ago we had the “asbestos removal program” involving residential homes.

Then about 10 years ago the Mr Fluffy “urban renewal” scheme dealing with all the same homes plus a few more.

It appears that now we are about to have a “school hazmat remediation” program.

Which mob who are a branch of ACT Labor is going to benefit (again) from this scheme?

underwhelmed4:21 pm 17 Mar 21

When the government built Namadgie 9 short years ago they didn’t only build the worst performing school in Canberra, but they also found lead paint and asbestos to build it out of….you guys should give yourselves a pat on the back for that effort!

Yep spot on what a shocker. The little Taylor School in North Kambah is over 100% capacity whilst the Namadgi super school is at something like 30%. You think that would be telling the Education Directorate and Minister something.

But they want to keep the issues quiet and hide the facts so as not to alarm kids and to protect the kids. I’m OK with this approach for a year or two. But you can’t have terrible education performances for years and keep it all hush hush. That’s doing the kids an even greater disservice.

I know a few ex Namadgi teachers and they constantly complain that they weren’t given the extra resources, support and additional incentives required to help improve the students.

Wait a minute. One of the reasons ACT Government said they need to close 3 primary schools in Kambah and build a new Namadgi super school was to remediate building issues such as lead paint etc in the older Kambah primary schools Mt Neighbour, Urambi and Village Creek primary schools. Plus tear down the old Kambah High.

Now they’re telling us the newer Namadgi super school on the site of old Kambah High is on the list with the bad stuff. This mob would replace your three 1974 Kingswoods with a newer Leyland P76 and tell you you’re better off.

Surely they didn’t just close the Kambah Schools to save money and sell the land off to property developers. That would never happen would it? Surely it was purely about better educating our kids. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Bad stuff is everywhere including lead in paint. The question not answered is how much, as that is what matters and directly effects risk.

Yes I agree the level of risk is probably the key issue, the risk was probably low over a decade ago when they closed my kids and their friends school, took away the hall for evening Judo and built townhouses over the playground and heavily utilised basketball court.

The drop in education performances for Kambah kids is definitely a higher long term risk than some lead paint.

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