Asbestos worries at Merredin College

Health concerns: Asbestos-containing materials found in soil at the Merredin College site have led to calls for the state government to take more action. Photo: WA education department.

Health concerns: Asbestos-containing materials found in soil at the Merredin College site have led to calls for the state government to take more action. Photo: WA education department.

The leader of the Nationals WA and an asbestos support charity are calling on the state government to take more action following the discovery of asbestos in soil at Merredin College.

In a report released by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) in November last year, it was revealed that asbestos-containing materials were found in surface soils across the site, made up of a primary and high school.

The report identified asbestos contamination on the surface of the school bus pick-up and drop-off zone, with the fragments spread over more than 6000 metres squared.

DWER said remediation is required to reduce 'unacceptable risks to human health, the environment or environmental values' to acceptable levels.

"Soil remedial works are required at the site to mitigate potential risks to human health," the report read.

Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia president Robert Vojakovic said there was a significant health risk to staff and students at the school.

"Asbestos products can be found in most domestic and public buildings in Western Australia and indeed with the illegal import of new building products containing asbestos it is now being found in recent construction such as the Children's Hospital," he said.

"All of these products present a risk of exposure to deadly asbestos fibres as there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.

"There is no cure for the deadly asbestos caused cancer Mesothelioma and our only protection is to reduce our exposure over time to asbestos containing products."

An education department spokesperson said permanent fencing and signage had been installed around the affected areas, in consultation with the Department of Health .

"We will be undertaking any other requirements as advised by DWER," a spokesperson said.

"We will continue to take advice from experts on how best to manage these sites in the interests of staff and students."

Mr Vojakovic said the action was not adequate.

"I find it incomprehensible that the education department has taken so long to take effective action to protect school students from the risk of asbestos exposure at school," he said.

"Containment with fences is not enough and all asbestos contamination on school grounds should be completely pacified to protect our children and reduce their risk of developing Mesothelioma in the future."

Nationals WA leader Mia Davies said she had met with the education department, who required additional government support to provide an adequate level of care to staff and students.

"During a briefing from the minister's office and department, I raised concerns about how long it had taken for the assessment and plan to remediate both the college and residential college sites," Ms Davies said.

"It was clear that whilst the department has been working within the resources it has been allocated, additional funding is required to allow them to deal with these and other sites across the state in a more timely manner.

"I call on the government to commit to remedying legacy asbestos contamination as swiftly as possible, and to fund these activities accordingly.

"I certainly don't want to alarm the community, but it is a serious matter and should be being given a high priority by the minister."

Ms Davies will be meeting with the Merredin School Council on Thursday.

A Department of Health spokesperson said they had no direct involvement in the case and responsibility fell on the education department.

In 2017 the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia held their annual Walk for research and awareness in Merredin, where $85,000 was raised in the five-day walk to Perth.

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