After months of waiting and an indoor-only policy for about 20 preschool students and teachers at Captains Flat Preschool, soil samples have confirmed the site of more than 30 years is not safe and the school will be relocated.
The Captains Flat Preschool will be relocated to a demountable school which has been placed on an oval in the town adjacent to Foxlow Lane while staff pack up indoor items from the preschool’s current location in Foxlow Street, where lead up to three times the safe level was detected on pre-school grounds.
Initial tests in February revealed lead levels of 850, 790 and 320 mg/kg of soil, well above the safe level of 300 mg/kg of soil for residential land and schools.
Students, parents, and teachers were left in limbo as they waited on advice from the NSW Early Childhood Education Directorate, Crown Lands, and the Department of Regional Planning NSW after the preschool was first closed in February. It then reopened to a shoes-off, indoor-only policy, meaning students were unable to play outside.
A letter to families on 29 May explained the results of further soil samples taken by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, which is responsible for Crown Lands. The samples found the area to be deeply contaminated with lead from the town’s former Lake George Mine.
“Crown Lands have taken time to do their own soil, dust and wind testing in and around our preschool on top of testing already undertaken by the EPA,” the letter says.
“The soil testing done by Crown Lands went quite deep, up to 50 cm below the surface in some places, with more than 20 samples taken, including some on and beside Miners Road which goes up the hill behind preschool.
“The results of the testing have shown that the soil in and around our preschool and playground is quite deeply contaminated with lead and that each time there is significant rain, more lead is still being washed towards the preschool and therefore the lead contamination is still both ongoing and changing.
“Unfortunately this means that Crown Lands recommends the disuse of this site as a preschool.”
It is expected the preschool will relocate to its new location permanently from the beginning of term three, which was met with sadness in the letter to the school’s community.
“As you can imagine, management committee members and preschool educators were devastated to hear this news, particularly as we all appreciate the significant history of this site as a preschool and the efforts the community made in coming together to provide Captains Flat with a purpose-built preschool building almost 30 years ago,” the letter said.
The preschool has been one of the areas of the town most affected by lead contamination.
Initial testing by the EPA found that an area outside the school had 1900 micrograms of lead per kilogram of soil (mg/kg) on 3 February. One sample from a reserve behind the pre-school had much higher levels of 3100 mg/kg of lead on 9 February. Another sample had 2400 mg/kg of lead in the soil.
Other areas of the town had minimal lead levels, while most of the contamination was contained to the corridor near the railway from the former mine that operated until 1962.
Private landowners have access to free testing, although results were only shared with the owner and with other government agencies involved in managing the issue.
The current preschool site will be remediated as part of the Captains Flat Precinct remediation plan; however, the future of the school site is unknown.
Other remediation measures in the town include covering patches of bare soil with grass or mulch to prevent dust and using raised garden beds with clean imported soil if growing home produce.
The town’s remediation plan also involves fencing around the affected areas as part of The Legacy Mines Program, a NSW Government initiative that assists landholders by delivering and managing works to reduce risks arising from historic and abandoned mines.