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.
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”.
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.