19 January 2024

UPDATE: No 'cause for concern' found at other ANU childcare centres following discovery of lead paint particles

| Claire Fenwicke
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University Preschool and Child Care Centre nursery and toddler playground

The University Preschool and Child Care Centre at ANU is aiming to have staff back on site by the end of the week. Photo: Facebook.

UPDATE: Friday, 19 January – Families with children at various Australian National University (ANU) childcare centres have been assured no issues have been found at other services.

It follows the discovery of lead paint particles in the carpet of the University Preschool and Child Care Centre (UPCCC) during the summer break.

ANU chief operating officer Chris Price advised in an email that routine maintenance was carried out during the holidays, which included painting and atmospheric testing in several centres.

“There was no cause for concern in Heritage, Acton Early Childcare Centre and Cubby House on Campus, which opened at the start of the year as planned,” he wrote.

“In University Pre-school and Childcare Centre, our checks caused us to pick up traces of lead in one building, building F, with no issues in building E.

“As a result, we delayed reopening UPCCC to allow for affected carpet – and, to ensure peace of mind, carpet and underlay throughout the entire centre, together with other porous items – to be removed, followed by a thorough environmental clean of the entire centre. This was followed by further testing to be sure no contamination remained.”

The UPCCC delayed its opening to allow this to happen, with the centre expected to re-open on Monday, 22 January.

The risk of exposure to children and staff is understood to be low.

Mr Price explained testing for contamination, painting by accredited contractors, as well as advising centre operators to conduct regular cleaning and avoid activities which could disturb “historic traces of lead paint”, were frequently conducted due to the age of some buildings.

“Our heritage childcare centres occupy older buildings, with which many generations have a great affinity, but like most buildings of their age, were decorated with lead-containing paint early on in their history,” he wrote.

“Recognising this, the safety and wellbeing of staff and families who use these buildings is always our and the child care operators’ top priority. And as such, we take every step to ensure these buildings are safe for their occupants to enjoy.

“We apologise for any disruption or concern experienced by families or staff, but as you are aware we take a very cautious approach to these centres and expect the operators, our tenants, to do the same.”

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Tuesday, 16 January – An ANU childcare centre has been forced to delay its reopening after lead paint particles were found in the carpet of one of its buildings.

An email was sent to University Preschool and Child Care Centre (UPCCC) families on 11 January informing them that the centre wouldn’t be operating until 22 January.

Signed by UPCCC acting director Heidi Metten and president Fiona Preston, as well as ANU chief operating officer Chris Price, the email stated contaminants had been found during the end-of-year shutdown.

“As part of the maintenance work and the university’s testing, some traces of lead paint particles were detected in the carpet in F block (Building 75F),” it stated.

“F block houses the nursery, toddlers, Echidna’s sleep room, administration and staff rooms.”

The carpet was immediately removed, and environmental cleaning and additional air monitoring have taken place.

Both WorkSafe ACT and the Children’s Education and Care Assurance (CECA) regulatory body have been notified about the discovery.

“The university is currently awaiting a testing report to confirm all contaminants have been appropriately removed, after which the carpets and underlay will be replaced,” the email stated.

“No other contaminants have been detected at this time (including in E block, which houses the preschool).”

The ANU has offered to reimburse any costs related to health advice that families or staff choose to receive in the wake of the news.

It has also reassured employees who have missed out on work.

“The university’s intention is that staff are not out-of-pocket as a consequence of this matter.”

Region asked the ANU how long the lead paint could have been present in the building and what level of risk could have been posed to children and staff; however, a response was not provided before deadline.

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A WorkSafe ACT spokesperson confirmed inspectors had attended the site and were continuing to keep an eye on the situation.

“We have been advised that no workers will be entering the premises until formal clearance has been issued by the qualified occupational hygienist involved,” they said.

The Education Directorate is the body responsible for CECA, with a spokesperson confirming they had been notified about the issue by UPCCC’s provider.

“They advised the service would remain closed until 22 January 2024 whilst the area was cleaned and the carpet replaced,” they said.

“CECA will work with the provider to ensure the premises are safe before the service re-opens.”

Under CECA requirements, approved providers have to notify the regulator of any circumstances at service that poses a risk to the health, safety or wellbeing of children at the service.

This obligation includes potential exposure to contaminants.

Regular audits are also carried out by CECA authorised officers to ensure standards are met. This includes checking policies, procedures and maintenance schedules, as well as visual checks of premises.

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The UPCCC’s nursery caters for 20 children aged four weeks to two years of age, and the toddler room can accommodate 22 children aged 18 months to three years.

Echidna’s is one of the two preschool groups at the centre for children aged three to four.

The childcare was founded in 1969 by ANU staff and prioritises places for children of university employees.

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