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'Safe' school gutter wiped before check

Elizabeth Allen, education reporter

30 March 2005 - ABOUT 9000 government buildings in Queensland still contain asbestos, including 1100 schools. But the State Government is adamant they pose no danger.

Most of the school roofs containing the potentially deadly substance will not be replaced for 15-20 years.

The admissions came as an asbestos specialist admitted gutters he inspected at a Brisbane west state school had been wiped down before his examination.

Occupational health specialist Keith Adam admitted he had failed to note in his government-commissioned review of the report that the Moggill State School's gutters had been wet-wiped the weekend before his own on-site inspection.

Dr Adam noted on March 8 a "small amount of debris in the guttering" but that the remainder of the gutter appeared "quite clean".

Dr Adam told The Courier-Mail he was aware the gutters had been wet-wiped the weekend before in accordance with the recommendations of independent company Parsons Brinckerhoff.

He said this cleaning would have been a "prudent measure".

Works Environmental Remediation and Heritage manager Michael Ball said asbestos dust found by Parsons Brinckerhoff on the gutters of Moggill State School, in Brisbane's west, in early March posed "no health risk".

Works Minister Robert Schwarten and deputy Liberal Leader Bruce Flegg have been engaged in a war of words over reviews of the Parsons Brinckerhoff report.

In his review, Dr Adam found the roof did not present a health hazard to children or staff.

But leading lung specialist Maurice Heiner said asbestos fibres on the school gutter and in the roof space could become airborne and cause asbestos-related disease in those below.

Dr Heiner cited the case of a Townsville teacher who made a successful claim against WorkCover Queensland before dying of the asbestos disease mesothelioma late last year.

A government spokeswoman said yesterday the woman could not be publicly identified but the roof of the school where she taught had been replaced.

Public Works Department assistant director-general Max Smith said there were no plans to replace roofs before the end of their natural life "as a membrane".

This end was likely to occur for all school asbestos roofs over the next 15 to 20 years.

Mr Smith said an asbestos roof only became a risk when it was "abraded mechanically".

But, while Queensland parents can now learn whether their child's school contains the substance, they are not able to view records kept by every school which show the exact locations of the asbestos.

Queensland Asbestos Related Diseases Support Society Shirley White said yesterday the government had a duty of care to teachers, students and parents.

"As far as I am concerned no asbestos exposure is safe," Mrs White said.

Mr Smith said all government buildings on the Public Works Department's 11-year-old central asbestos register were checked every three years, with some inspected more often.

All buildings also had an asbestos management plan located on site.

Asbestos debris found in the Moggill roof space from drilling was the result of the management plan not being used properly.

However, Dr Adam said the Moggill roof did not contain blue asbestos, as claimed by Dr Heiner, but the "substantially less dangerous" white asbestos

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