Asbestos threat to Mt Pleasant school

Jody Byrnes managed to get former prime minister John Howard’s signature on a petition to keep open Warilla North Public School. Picture: DAVE TEASEExcavation works linked to the Federal Government’s Building the Education Revolution works at a Mt Pleasant primary school could have exposed students and teachers to potentially deadly asbestos fibres, concerned parents claim.Pleasant Heights Public School parents say contractors did at least two weeks of excavations at a site in the school previously flagged on a Department of Education registry as possibly containing asbestos fibres.The claims come less than a week after Warilla North Public School parents revealed they were fearful their school would be shut permanently because of asbestos discoveries in May, which had forced students into nearby schools in the interim.Warilla North parent Jody Byrnes upped the ante on Tuesday, taking her cause to a higher power. Former prime minister John Howard, campaigning in the Gilmore electorate with Liberal candidate Joanna Gash, signed a petition to keep the school open.But Mr Howard’s signature could be required again, with construction union official Peter Primmer this week warning parents he knew of at least half-a-dozen more schools in the region where asbestos had been uncovered during Building the Education Revolution works, but wouldn’t say which ones.The Department of Education and Training would not confirm if the hazardous material had been found in schools or if removal works had been carried out during school hours. But it did admit many schools were built at a time when asbestos-laced building products were commonly used.A spokesperson said: “It is not disputed that fibro containing asbestos was a common building product until its use was ceased in 1987. Any school opened after 1988 will be asbestos-free.”The department would not answer questions about how many schools in the Illawarra had been built pre-1987.Meantime, parents of students at Pleasant Heights Public School have been left with few answers. A 2008 management plan for the site, adjacent to the school’s library, classified the area as “low risk” provided the earth remained undisturbed.But according to the parents who spoke to the Mercury, earthworks at the site had been occurring for at least two weeks before a mother noticed what she believed was asbestos and raised the alarm.A WorkCover spokesperson said work had ceased immediately on the site after the discovery of “suspected asbestos” and the site was made secure.But mother of two, Beth Matters, said she was concerned children and teachers may have been exposed to the dangerous fibres during the initial work period.”They’ve made it safe now, but how about when they were churning the soil up for two weeks while it contained asbestos?” she said.”The site management plan says before works are undertaken, a licensed removalist needs to come and take it away, which obviously hasn’t happened, otherwise they wouldn’t need someone to do it now.”The department yesterday confirmed “a couple of bonded fibro pieces” had been found in the ground at the school.A spokesperson said the site’s managing contractor, Richard Crookes Construction, was planning for the removal of the bonded fibro as well as “carrying out further tests around the site to identify if there were any other affected areas”.”Every care is being taken to ensure student and teacher safety and well-being.”
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