Mother pulls children out of Gooseberry Hill Primary School over asbestos concerns

Diana Archer with her children Morgan (9), Hayden (8) and Wyatt (10). Picture: David Baylis         d463697
Diana Archer with her children Morgan (9), Hayden (8) and Wyatt (10). Picture: David Baylis        d463697

A MOTHER of three in the Shire of Kalamunda has removed her children from Gooseberry Hill Primary School due to her concerns over asbestos located nearby and on the school oval.

Diana Archer said despite her understanding that asbestos was all over the Shire in local schools, the problem for her was the schools’ handling of the issue.

“In my opinion other schools have handled this issue with a sense of urgency and respect for the children in the school,” she said.

“I have not found that to be the case at Gooseberry Hill Primary School.”

Ms Archer said despite her children being devastated at the loss of their everyday friendship groups and the wonderful teachers and music program, she chose to put their health first.

Small pieces of broken blue asbestos sheeting were found on the school grounds and in the nearby Ledger Road Reserve in June 2016.

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Premier Colin Barnett and Health Minister John Day answered questions about the material at a recent community forum.

They were asked about the Education Department’s investigations into the site.

Gooseberry Hill Primary School parent Emma Kallarn said the “WA state records show the primary school and the Ledger Road Reserve formed the same parcel of land used for both legal and illegal dumping of all contaminates in the past”.

Mr Barnett told those at the meeting that primary school ovals “were often built on old landfill sites in the ’60s and ’70s in WA”.

The Education Department investigations said the school was “possibly contaminated” and recommended further investigation in November 2016.

The Shire of Kalamunda said it also held its own investigations into the former illegal dumping ground.

Ms Kallarn said water for the school oval was also being pumped from a contaminated dam nearby in an adjoining reserve, which had more asbestos in the ground.

The issue was discussed at a Shire Council meeting six months ago and at a parents and citizens meeting at the school.

“At the time the school community became aware that there was widespread asbestos contamination at Ledger Road Reserve and Gooseberry Hill Primary School,” Ms Kallarn said.

“Three bodies – the Department of Education, the Shire of Kalamunda and the Department of Health – have all stated the problem is not serious.”

The Department of Environment and Resources has also requested that the school grounds be tested for fibres.

Parents said they ran their own tests with permission from the Department of Education.

“We have certainly raised some questions around the methodology, which appears flawed,” Ms Kallarn said.

The Department of Health is reviewing the information.

In June, executive director of infrastructure John Fischer said a qualified consultant had “informed the department that the types of asbestos containing material identified at the school are typical of asbestos which is usually found in urban areas and does not present a health hazard to students or staff”.

At the time Mr Fischer said another consultant had prepared a plan for ongoing management of the site and it would be implemented with the school principal.

Kalamunda Shire President Andrew Waddell said the first site investigation showed the community was at low risk.

Cr Waddell said an audit of asbestos in WA schools two years ago found there was about 900,000sq m of asbestos still located in the buildings or grounds of state schools.

He said the Shire was acting in accordance with the council’s resolution to remediate the area as soon as possible and this was being completed within health and safety requirements as prescribed by the Department of Health.

But for Ms Archer, her children are now preparing to fit into a new school and make new friends.

“I left the school because it proved ill-equipped to handle the enormity of the situation regarding asbestos and other contamination that makes its way to the dam just below the oval in the reserve that is used to irrigate the oval,” she said.

“Parents need to register their children and families on the National Asbestos Register if they are concerned.

“It lays the groundwork for possible future claims and provides agencies that can assist families that may come to suffer if an asbestos-related disease develops later.”