Coast schools face asbestos risk

COFFS Coast school kids are being taught the three Rs in rooms laden with asbestos, after a State Government audit has found the instances of asbestos in schools are worse than previously thought.

Schools in Coffs Harbour, Bellingen and Dorrigo have been found to contain chrysotile, or white asbestos, the most commonly encountered form, as well as brown asbestos (amosite) and blue asbestos (crocidolite).

The asbestos was found in toilet blocks, canteens, internal walls and ceilings, staff rooms, libraries and clinic rooms as part of the Department of Education and Training's (DET) asbestos register.

The Australian Safety and Compensation Council categorise asbestos as a human carcinogen, with exposure known to cause lung cancer, while the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia claim blue asbestos has been identified as having the most potent effect in producing malignant mesothelioma, or cancer of the lung lining.

However, the Coffs Coast schools that tested positive to asbestos were found to only contain low risk levels of the material and DET maintain that if the material is left undisturbed, it poses no health risk.

Director-general of Education, Michael Coutts-Trotter, said most buildings built in Australia between the 1920s and the mid-1980s contain asbestos.

.“It was a ubiquitous building product and in most cases it's perfectly safe,” he told the Fairfax Radio.

“As long as it is bound up in asbestos cement and can't escape into the atmosphere, it is safe in those circumstances.”

Mr Coutts-Trotter said every public school and TAFE college across the State was examined for asbestos last year.

“What we wanted to make sure was that . . . we knew where it is because we've got a huge program of school building and rebuilding going on at the moment,” he said. DET maintains the asbestos registers will help protect parent and citizen groups on working bees as well as professional builders and maintenance workers.



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