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Media Release - 27th September 1995

Lead Contamination Scare: Councils Risk Legal Action

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Concerned parents withdrew their child from an inner Sydney Council childcare centre until they could be assured that the site was decontaminated of lead. Unsafe renovations were carried out at the centre by a painter contracted by the council. Lead based paint was dry sanded from one wall contaminating the centre with lead dust . The parents felt that the dust posed a definite hazard to all the children at the centre and were concerned that council had not warned parents of the works. Even low level lead poisoning can cause permanent IQ damage to children and has been associated with learning and behaviour problems.

Marrickville Council (which included legal, childcare, environmental health, technical services representatives and the General Manager) on the 20th of September 1995 met with Elizabeth O’Brien from The LEAD Group and the parents (one of whom is a lawyer) of the pre-schooler to formulate the following solutions to lead contamination of childcare centres:

- council develop a model contract for future renovation and demolition work in all council owned childcare centres and other properties frequented by children. The specifications would require contractors to get a clearance after completion of works to prove that the site was not lead contaminated before children would be allowed back on to the premises.

- childcare centres should ensure provision for frequent small nutritious meals to cut lead absorption and implement lead aware maintenance, hygiene and cleaning procedures. These include hand washing, wet wiping surfaces after vacuuming when children are absent, periodic lead decontamination of carpets and furnishings, covering sandpits and ensuring there is no bare soil.

- council urgently request decisions from the state Environment Protection Authority on action levels for various amounts of soil, dust, or paint lead contamination. This would provide clear guidelines for lead abatement after an assessment of contamination has been carried out.

- council pass a motion to ensure that all council properties frequented by children are inspected and made free of lead hazards as an example to the community. This would provide a `certificate of lead safety’ that should form part of childcare accreditation as administered by the Department of Community Services.

Elizabeth O’Brien said that "the General Manager of Marrickville council was keen to be proactive in this issue to encourage other councils not to `go to ground’, in the hope that the problem would just go away".

She added that "taking these measures will help protect councils from legal action by parents whose children are at risk of lead poisoning on council properties. Councils are in a position to prevent many lead problems through the approval process for both the establishment and development of childcare centres."

"The parents have taken all necessary measures to prevent their child from being lead poisoned and it came as a shock to them to turn up to the preschool 6 weeks ago to find old paint dispersed by dry sanding, in their child’s playspace" stated Ms O’Brien.

The preschool was declared safe on Tuesday after all the topsoil from the yard and from the sandpit had been replaced, lead contaminated paint dust and flakes were removed from yard, paths and interior floors, surfaces were wet wiped with sugar soap.

Contact - Elizabeth O’Brien - The LEAD Group (02) 9716 0014. ###

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Last Updated 08 March 2012
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