Students in the Australian state of Queensland have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos, according to a government report. The asbestos debris has appeared in playgrounds and athletic fields near schools in and around the city of Brisbane. Investigators from the Queensland state government have reported that topsoil that contained asbestos may have been used in as “fill” in some of the playground sites.
In previous years, old school buildings would be demolished and covered with topsoil. Many of those buildings from the early part of the last century contained asbestos as fireproofing and insulation material. As the schools have continued to add playing fields and other improvements, much of that contaminated topsoil has surfaced.
The report, which is due to be published sometime this month, shows that some of the highest concentrations of the toxic material have been found in playgrounds, in sandpits and in many of the oval-shaped fields students use to play Australian Rules Football. Reports continue to surface about children playing with the hazardous material that they find in the fields. In one instance, an elementary school student allegedly took home a sizable piece of asbestos to show to his parents.
State education officials have suspended classes at six elementary schools in the Brisbane area as the investigation progresses. Workers at five of those six sites have verified asbestos findings on the school grounds. Principals at schools in the area state that they have taken steps to insure the children’s safety. Two schools have restricted outdoor activities after environmental workers found asbestos on their playgrounds and football ovals, while another school replaced the material in its sandpit when officials learned of asbestos found there.
In Australia, schools are required to keep maintenance logs, including the presence of potentially toxic substances such as asbestos, for every school term. However, officials later found out that these records were either disorganized or not updated at all. At one school, the maintenance record had not been updated in more than ten years.
Queensland Minister of Education Geoff Wilson has stated that he has appointed a special independent investigator, John Gaskin, to look into the prevalence of asbestos on school grounds. Mr. Gaskin is the former president of the Master Builders Association of Australia, the leading business association for the construction industry. Mr. Wilson has said that Mr. Gaskin’s experience in the construction field will be invaluable in the course researching this issue.
Another leading expert in the field of asbestos abatement and remediation in Australia is Mark Rentoul. Mr. Rentoul is the manager of Asbestos Auditors, a company that carries out asbestos inspections on private and public structures and creates plans to deal with asbestos removal projects. Mr. Rentoul told the Australian Associated Press that maintenance records at the schools should have been more organized and that independent auditors should have carried out the annual inspections.
William Kwiecien, an asbestos specialist at the Queensland University of Technology, said that children exposed to asbestos in playground settings were at “extremely” low risk to develop mesothelioma, asbestosis, or any other lung diseases associated with long-term exposure to asbestos. Since most of the asbestos found in the playgrounds was still in a solid form, the danger of developing any lung disorders was minimal unless the fibers came loose and became airborne.
Sources: Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au