Around 70 public schools in the ACT contain hazardous building materials including asbestos and lead paint, Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry has confirmed, as a fourth public school recorded lead paint dust above the hazardous threshold.
Parents at the Richardson Primary School were notified yesterday (1 February) that lead paint dust more than eight times the hazardous threshold was found in the boiler room and heating ducts.
The areas connected to this system include the hall, library and five learning spaces which are used by two classes. Dust was also found on railings in one classroom that are inaccessible to students and teachers.
All areas were cleaned by specialists.
The dust was found during routine maintenance work over the school holidays and was tested. Teachers were notified on Friday and parents were told on Monday after further tests were conducted over the weekend to ensure the school was safe to occupy.
Ms Berry, who is also the Education Minister, said the heating system had been sealed and that experts had advised that all rooms were safe to occupy.
“If lead paint is managed in the way the experts tell us we need to, then it is safe,” she said.
“If it is painted over with paint that does not contain lead, it seals the paint and makes it safe. Lead paint only becomes dangerous when it is disturbed, like asbestos sheeting.”
A dedicated task force was formed in December last year to co-ordinate the management and removal of hazardous materials across ACT public schools.
The hazardous materials register for ACT public schools was reviewed in the last two months and plans were developed to address safety concerns in schools that contain hazardous materials, Ms Berry said.
Schools build prior to 1992 likely used hazardous materials, she said.
“Many buildings, including schools, were built with materials that we did not know were hazardous at the time. We know more now and as buildings age, we need to manage these materials actively.
“The safety of students and staff is our priority and this includes making sure that families feel confident that schools are safe.”
Hazardous lead levels associated with lead paint were also found at the Yarralumla Primary School, the North Ainslie Primary School and Alfred Deakin High School last year.
Ms Berry said more cases are bound to arise during maintenance works. In the 2019 election, Labor committed $15 million to fast-track the removal of hazardous materials in public schools.
Canberra Liberals education spokesman Jeremy Hanson said the concerns needed to be addressed quickly and that the list of affected schools needed to be made public.
“It is really concerning for parents sending their kids to school for the first day to find out that the school is affected by dust,” he said.
“We do not fully understand the impact that it has on kids and the government needs to explain how many children have been exposed, what the impact of that is and what they are going to do to notify those parents whose children may have been exposed to lead paint.
“We need to know what schools are affected, in detail, what actions are being taken and assurances that there are going to be no children or teachers exposed to toxic substances. Those assurances are not forthcoming.”
Ms Berry said a school’s hazardous materials plan can be accessed by parents in their school’s reception and that she was satisfied remediated schools are safe to occupy after being given advice from the expert panel, who were in turn advised by Robson Environmental.