Monday, May 15, 2017 — The Australian National University (ANU) has closed a play area of the University Preschool and Child Care Centre (UPCC) as a precautionary measure after finding lead-based paint on outside courtyard walls at the centre.
While the University advised last week that it believed there were no areas of concern at the Centre, on the weekend ANU maintenance staff removed hedges in the courtyard to enable a more detailed inspection of the building exterior. This revealed previously unidentified areas of weathering.
Immediate remediation work has begun. To ensure no ongoing risk to children, the play area will remain closed until the remediation work is completed.
ANU has also contacted the Health Protection Service at ACT Health.
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said parents of children at the centre have been notified and invited to discuss any concerns with university and health officials at 5pm on Wednesday.
“The health and safety of children at the University Preschool and Childcare Centre is our top priority and we have closed the central play area as a precaution,” Professor Schmidt said.
“I fully understand as a parent whose children attended UPCC just how worrying news like this is. I can assure parents we are making every effort to ensure the children’s safety and that we don’t have this sort of issue ever again.”
The University Preschool and Childcare Centre takes care of 117 children.
The extra inspections were carried out after lead-based paint was discovered at the neighbouring Heritage Early Childhood Centre.
An inspection of the interior of the buildings in April this year and again last week did not identify any areas of risk for children. A previous survey in 2015 identified the presence of lead based paint which did not pose risk to children.
The University has had 73 samples from the outdoor area sent for testing for levels of lead. The test results are due on Wednesday 17 May and results will be shared with parents when they are available.
Paint containing lead was used in many Australian buildings, including at ANU, prior to 1970. Paint that is covered by well maintained lead-free paint is not a hazard in itself.
Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in the ground. People can be exposed to lead in the environment through food, drinking water, air, dust, soil and some consumer products, like lead-containing paint.
More information on lead exposure in children can be found at http://health.act.gov.au/datapublications/fact-sheets/environmental-health#Lead.
This issue came to light after a parent asked the University to check a vacant building (I Block). ANU engaged an environmental consultant to conduct an assessment of all childcare centres on campus. Testing revealed two elevated levels in the soil at the Heritage early Childhood Centre. Since remediation the Heritage Early Childhood Centre has received a clearance certificate from environmental hygienists.
An assessment by the environmental hygienist of The Cubby House on Campus Early Learning Centre and The Acton Early Childhood Centre have indicated no cause for concern in either of those centres.
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