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20 July 2016

Asbestos health fears quashed

Expert advice has confirmed asbestos containing materials (ACM) found at Gooseberry Hill Primary School presented a very low risk to health.

Executive Director Infrastructure, John Fischer (pictured), said the qualified environmental consultant who inspected the school had informed the Department of Education that the ACM in the surface soil appeared to be at levels that presented a very low risk to humans.

“The Department has also consulted with the Department of Health which endorsed the consultant’s advice,” Mr Fischer said.

“We understand parents have some concerns so the Department is getting further assessments done by qualified health and environmental consultants to ensure the risk remains low.

“An independent auditor will look at the risk mitigation process used and results reported to the Department and we will take on board any feedback provided. Additionally, an independent consultant will conduct a health risk assessment.”

Mr Fischer said while the low level of asbestos detected in the soil did not require the area to be sealed, the Department has covered it as an extra precaution.

“It is impractical to collect and remove every piece of asbestos located in soil so a protective layer, such as gravel, is often used to contain ACM. We believe this is an appropriate method to use at Gooseberry Hill Primary School,” Mr Fischer said.

“The area where ACM was identified has been covered with compacted gravel and the Shire of Kalamunda has committed to construct a fenced, gravel-covered pathway near the school to ensure materials remain contained.”

A media report overnight claimed parents at the school had their own tests done on ACM samples. The Department is discussing the results with the Department of Health and will refer the report to the independent auditor.

There have also been claims that the school is built on an old landfill site. As far as the Department of Education is aware, the land Gooseberry Hill Primary School is located on was not used for landfill and there is no evidence to suggest that it ever was. The Department understands part of the reserve next to the school was used as a sanitary waste facility by the Shire of Kalamunda but that is about 300 metres south east of the school oval.

Mr Fischer said the Department had good processes in place to manage asbestos in WA public schools.

“Parents can be assured the Department is working with the school to manage the asbestos on the school site,” Mr Fischer said.

The Shire of Kalamunda – which has responsibility for the old landfill site – will be hosting a community meeting on the matter at 5.30pm on Thursday, 28 July.

Facts about asbestos in WA public schools

  • Asbestos was widely used in building materials up to the mid-1980s.
  • About 600 of the nearly 800 public schools in Western Australia were built before the mid-1980s, and may have asbestos containing materials in some areas.
  • Environmental health experts advise that undisturbed asbestos containing materials pose a low risk to health.
  • Where asbestos containing material is no longer functional or presents an unacceptable health risk it is addressed or replaced with a suitable alternative product.
  • Removal of asbestos containing material is only done by qualified contractors, and only when staff and students are not present.
  • All recorded asbestos roofing in public schools has been removed and replaced with suitable materials.
  • Inspections of public schools to identify the location and condition of asbestos are done every two to three years.

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