January 18, 2019

Contractors disturb asbestos at Berridale Public School

Students at Berridale Public School might have been exposed to asbestos as workers cut into bonded asbestos sheeting during the first week of the new school year.

The school is on the NSW Government School Asbestos Register and the room was listed as being presumed to have asbestos present.

WorkCover NSW confirmed it visited the school, located between Cooma and Jindabyne, after parents raised concerns.

Contractors hired by the NSW Department of Education were installing airconditioning in a demountable building at the school on Wednesday last week when students returned for their first day. They drilled into the ceiling, which contained bonded asbestos.

WorkCover said that according to its investigations, the workmen only “discovered potential asbestos-containing material while drilling into the ceiling”.

In 2008, the NSW Department of Education launched a $3 million asbestos register to reduce risk of exposure to the toxic substance.

It is not known whether the workmen were aware of the asbestos before they began drilling. But WorkCover said they stopped work immediately and attempted to restrict the entry of children to the site. The demountable building is used as a lunch room when it is raining and students were inside that day, because it was raining.

WorkCover said the students were moved to another building and access to the demountable building was cut off. Asbestos warning stickers and barriers were then erected.

One parent, who did not wish to be named, said she assumed work was only halted because WorkCover had been notified.

She said it was not good enough that children had been in and around the area while fibres had potentially been released into the atmosphere. She also questioned why the work was not completed during the holidays.

“What I don’t understand is how work began on this site when it is listed on a public registry as having presumed asbestos.”

A spokesman for WorkCover NSW said a licensed asbestos removalist undertook testing on the building and the asbestos was removed. A clearance certificate had been issued by an occupational hygienist.

“WorkCover is satisfied that the school and contractor have acted in accordance with work health and safety laws.”

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said “the work to install airconditioning in the school’s two demountable classrooms was carried out in accordance with the department’s Asbestos Management Plan and WorkCover NSW requirements”.

“The department has received a clearance certificate for the subject area. WorkCover has inspected the site and will provide a written report to the school when it is ready. The school principal is keeping parents informed about the situation.”

Meanwhile, work to remediate asbestos contamination at Copper Tom Point on Lake Jindabyne has been delayed by wet weather.

Work was due to be completed by the end of February, and members of the public have been asked to avoid the area until the remediation works are complete.

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Contractors disturb asbestos at Berridale Public School

Asbestos cleanup sparks concern at Cole Harbour school

Two parents whose children attend a Cole Harbour elementary school say they’re concerned that they weren’t notified of an asbestos removal operation at the school over the Christmas holidays.

Laurie and Tyler Berdan learned of the asbestos cleanup at Colonel John Stuart Elementary School while walking their dog with their kids on the property over the holidays. Tyler noticed some trucks doing work on the school and spotted a sign on the door indicating that asbestos was being removed.

Laurie said she contacted the school board once classes were back in session and was told parents weren’t informed because there was no health risk.

“Well, I guess we differ in that opinion,” she said Wednesday. “We’re talking about asbestos. Yes, there is a health risk. It’s pretty well-documented.”

Asbestos, a construction material frequently found in older buildings, can cause cancer or scarring of the lungs when inhaled in large quantities. The federal government’s guidelines on asbestos say it does not pose a significant health risk when it is enclosed in a product and is not disturbed.

Laurie said she’s confident that the school and school board have taken all the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the students and staff. But she said parents should have been notified of the operation.

“I’m sure they wouldn’t have the kids at the school if the air quality tests didn’t come back within the realm (of safety),” she said. “I’m absolutely positive that they’ve done everything correct. But I also think that we kind of have the right to know.”

After learning about the asbestos removal, the parents were left with unanswered questions.

“When was it found? How was it found? Was it disturbed? How much of it was there?” Laurie asked. “Parents should have the right to assess any sort of health risk.”

Tyler said there was no effort to inform anybody, “regardless of whether the risk was higher or lower or virtually non-existent.”

Doug Hadley, the spokesman for the Halifax regional school board, said ceiling tiles were removed from most of the school over the holidays in preparation for a lighting retrofit planned for this month.

“It was recognized that the ceiling tiles, because of their age, would have contained asbestos,” he said. “It actually was a proactive measure. There was not any immediate concern.”

Hadley said that due to their age, about 75 per cent of schools in the board’s jurisdiction may have asbestos. But he emphasized that as long as the material isn’t disturbed, there is no risk to health or safety.

Although the board doesn’t have a policy on informing parents of asbestos removal, Hadley said after the Berdans’ complaint, parents at Colonel John Stuart Elementary School will be notified about the recent work.

“Typically, we would not inform parents of that type of removal because it only takes place during times when no students or staff are in the building,” he said. “If it had occurred during a time when the building was going to be occupied, we would have made that notification.”

But since more schools may be facing similar work in the future, the board will consider notifying parents at those schools, too.

“It gives us some thought that maybe, just to be on the proactive side of things, that we let parents know what the scope of the work is before it happens.”

Hadley said tests conducted at Colonel John Stuart Elementary School showed acceptable air quality.

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Asbestos cleanup sparks concern at Cole Harbour school