Asbestos closes buildings at Karabar High

THE Department of Education has assured the Karabar High School community that asbestos contamination in some school buildings has posed only a "minimal risk" to staff and students.

Acting principal Jackie Southwell didn't return calls to The Queanbeyan Age on the issue this week, however a Department of Education spokesperson confirmed the library and administration demountables have been closed since last Tuesday while asbestos decontamination work is carried out. Students returned from summer holidays last Wednesday.

"Based on publicly available advice provided by NSW Health and WorkCover, a single low intensity exposure such as this would be of minimal risk, however those with concerns should discuss these with their medical practitioner," the spokesperson said.

"Asbestos fibres are considered safe when they are in materials that are bonded and not in a friable condition. All known asbestos containing material at Karabar High School is of the bonded type."

The Department initially closed an additional five school buildings due to the possibility of cross-contamination from the affected buildings, however testing conducted by NSW WorkCover last week cleared them of contamination and they have since reopened for school use.

WorkCover first investigated reports of cracks in a ceiling containing asbestos in a demountable building at the school in December.

"The school has had repairs and asbestos testing undertaken and an occupational hygienist has issued a clearance certificate, certifying the building as safe," a WorkCover spokesperson said this week.

Decontamination work is currently underway in the affected demountables, and the Department of Education spokesperson said they should reopen this month.

"The staff that generally work in these buildings have been housed in alternative accommodation within the school grounds. The remediation of the Administration and Library demountable buildings is expected to be completed by the end of February 2014," the spokesperson said.

"A register of staff who were in the buildings has been completed. Staff have been offered support through the Employee Assistance Program and encouraged to seek other avenues of support. Staff and the small number of students who use the buildings will not re-enter them until a clearance certificate is provided at the completion of the works."

Meanwhile, school P&C president Dave Lavers told The Queanbeyan Age he was satisfied that the school executive had managed the situation safely.

"I'm very satisfied that our principal Paul Kells has handled the situation well on the ground, and that staff and students will not be exposed to undue risk because of asbestos," Mr Lavers said

"Asbestos is one of those things- yes it's a problem area, but it's nothing we have to panic about, because people handle it in a measured and balanced way. And I'm certainly very comfortable with the way our school executive is handling it to ensure that students and staff are safe."

"The bigger issue it raises- and I haven't got the full details of the exact circumstances- but a lot of schools have old buildings and older style demountables, and this could become more of a problem.

"Unfortunately, there does need to be capital expenditure to improve the quality of resources," he said.

The local NSW Teachers' Federation Organiser was also approached for comment on this issue but refused, citing it as an Department of Education issue.

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