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Premier probes school lead concerns

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Premier Peter Malinauskas says he is inquiring into whether a primary school in Adelaide’s north-east adequately informed parents about the detection of lead in ceiling dust in a classroom, with the Education Department also committing to a review.

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InDaily yesterday reported that students at East Marden Primary School were evacuated from the school’s Sapphire building from June 9, one day after a teacher reported black dust falling from a ceiling space in the building.

Ninety students – mostly in Year 6 – are now learning inside the school’s gymnasium until the end of Term 2 while building contractors assess the circa-1966 building and conduct remediation work.

In a letter to parents on Thursday – two weeks after the dust was first reported – the school’s principal Julie James wrote to parents informing them that testing had detected lead, but SA Health had advised there was a “very low public health risk” for students because they were beyond the age of risk for lead exposure.

However, one parent told InDaily the situation was “really concerning” and students could have ingested dust while eating inside the classroom.

The parent said she had asked for a copy of the testing results but the school had refused, with the Education Department also not responding to questions from InDaily asking if the results would be made public.

Malinauskas told reporters this morning that reports about the situation “aren’t great” and he had made inquiries about whether there had been “adequate communications in place between the school and parents”.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students but I am relieved to be advised by SA Health that the risk is very, very minimal indeed,” he said.

“I’m actually making inquiries about the exact timeline but the advice I’ve received this morning is that indeed there was correspondence that has gone from the Education Department to schools and parents more specifically in a way that is appropriate.”

Lead dust was detected in a classroom ceiling space at East Marden Primary School. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Department for Education’s chief operating officer Ben Temperly told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that the department would also “go back and review our approach to communication”.

He said the department “did seek to actively communicate with the parent community as this issue has been identified and managed”.

“I do know that a conscious effort has been made the whole way through to communicate with parents,” he said.

“If that communication hasn’t got through, we’ll need to take a look at that because certainly that’s something that we’ve endeavoured to do throughout the response to this issue.”

Temperly reiterated that SA Health had advised the department that there was an “extremely low public health risk” as a result of dust falling from the ceiling space.

Ninety students are currently learning inside East Marden Primary School’s gymnasium. Photo: Supplied

He said the department was taking action to “remediate the area as quickly as possible”.

“It’s not uncommon in older buildings for there to be lead dust present, whether that’s from accumulated car exhaust, for example, or flakes of old lead paint,” he said.

“Once that hazard was identified we took action immediately, we moved students out of the affected area and we engaged in the testing.”

Asked about reports of two staff members being pregnant at the school, Temperly said the department urged anyone with concerns to visit their GP.

“Certainly, we would be encouraging anyone that has any concerns arising from this incident to talk to their local GP or there’s some helpful resources on the SA (Health) website with links to phone numbers and email addresses that people can go to if they have any concerns,” he said.

East Marden Primary School is currently undergoing a $7.5 million state government-funded upgrade, but the Sapphire building is not slated for demolition as part of that project.

The Education Department confirmed the building was last refurbished in 2018 as part of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) project, but the ceiling space “was outside the scope of that work”.

A spokesperson from the Education Department told InDaily that building remediation work to address the lead issue would be completed in time for Term 3, beginning July 25.

Opposition health spokesperson Ashton Hurn said it was concerning that children had been moved into the gymnasium.

“I absolutely share the concerns of the teachers there, of the students and of the families,” she said.

“I’d encourage the government to do anything possible to ensure that this doesn’t happen again at any other school and also ensure that this situation is rectified at East Marden.”

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