MEMBER for Ripon Louise Staley has slammed Melbourne Polytechnic and the state government for what she called a complete lack of consultation with tour operators at Ararat's Aradale Asylum.
Earlier today the organisation announced it told tour operators on Thursday they would have to cease operations immediately, after a report confirmed the presence of lead in the paint in the oldest buildings.
"To go and speak to the operators and say 'You are now closed down' is not a process," Ms Staley said.
Ms Staley, and the tour operators themselves, said they had no prior knowledge testing was being conducted and were not kept informed about what was happening.
"We've got two operators at Aradale - one is a long-standing community group run by volunteers who are now in the position of having to ring a whole lot of people who have bookings for months, and these volunteers having to explain to people who have paid that they'll have to refund money, and of course the other is a small business."
Melbourne Polytechnic is the appointed committee of management for the land and buildings at Aradale, managing it on behalf of the state government.
"It's really wrong that the state government and Melbourne Polytechnic have thought that this was the way to go," Ms Staley said. "That's no process."
A spokesman for Melbourne Polytechnic said the collection of samples was done out in the open.
"Collection of samples was conducted in an open way on the site," he said.
"Once Melbourne Polytechnic became aware of the potential impact on human health it acted promptly to alert these stakeholders to the need to close the facilities to protect the health of their members and staff."
But Ms Staley said the organisation should have ensured tour operators were made aware of what was happening and worked with them to find alternative tour options that avoided the paint.
"To shut down somebody's livelihood on no notice and just say 'No, you can't run them anymore' is ... offensive," she said.
"To have no conception of what this means for Ararat in terms of shutting down its major tourism draw - for those of us who live here we know Ararat is a great place to come ... but this is our major tourist attraction.
"It's the thing that fills motel rooms, caravan park rooms, and I've been told already there are cancellations because people who were coming this weekend now can't come.
"It's a huge shame it's been taken away but it's just wrong that it's been taken away."
The spokesman for Melbourne Polytechnic said this was the first assessment of the site it has conducted, which was why it had not picked up on the deterioration of lead in the paint previously.
"As part of its asset management activities, Melbourne Polytechnic has been undertaking an ongoing review of the buildings that it manages," he said.
"In November 2018, Melbourne Polytechnic received a report that indicated the presence of lead paint in and on the historic buildings at the former Aradale Mental Hospital.
"At that time, no assessment of the impact on human health was available. In response, Melbourne Polytechnic began the process to commission an investigation into the possibility that the presence of this paint may present a risk to public health.
"The final report in relation to the contamination was received on 26 July 2019 and Melbourne Polytechnic has since acted promptly to close the heritage buildings in the interest of public safety."
The organisation has been contacting those regular visitors who might be considered at risk to exposure from lead.
"Melbourne Polytechnic is aware of only a small group of people who may have had frequent access to the historic buildings," he said.
"This includes tour operator staff, members of the Friends of J Ward and Melbourne Polytechnic staff.
"Over the past two days Melbourne Polytechnic has been reaching out to these groups to advise them that, while the risk is low, these individuals should seek medical advice."
Government health website The Better Health Channel lists the symptoms of lead poisoning as:
- muscle pains
- abdominal pains
- nausea and vomiting
'If a person is exposed to smaller amounts of lead over a longer time period, chronic (long-term or ongoing) lead exposure may produce symptoms such as:
- lack of energy
- loss of appetite
- learning disabilities
- behavioural problems
- poor school performance
- poor coordination
- impaired growth.'
MELBOURNE Polytechnic chief executive Frances Coppollilo said that a small number of regular visitors to Aradale Asylum have been urged to seek medical advice after a report found low levels of lead in some of the buildings.
The lead was found in the historical hospital buildings, the majority of which were constructed between the 1860s and 1960.
Melbourne Polytechnic, which owns Aradale, commissioned contractors to conduct an assessment of the site, and compiled a report which was completed about a week ago detailing the presence of lead.
Despite this, Mr Coppollilo said casual visitors should not worry about exposure.
"While the report from our contamination experts has identified that the presence of the lead represents a very low risk to casual visitors, the buildings are being closed to avoid potential harm to people who visit the site more regularly and therefore have a greater risk of exposure," he said.
"Due to the advanced age of the buildings, much of the existing paint work both internally and externally is in a poor condition. As a result, there is a risk to people from prolonged exposure to lead residue in dust within the buildings."
Surface water and ground water testing was also conducted but no contamination was found.
"This investigation has determined that the lead contamination is confined to the historic buildings and their immediate surrounds," Mr Coppollilo said.
The organisation will work to find an appropriate clean-up method but a spokesman was unable to confirm any timelines or the potential cost of the clean-up at this stage.
The Ararat campus of Melbourne Polytechnic will remain open and are unaffected by the closures.
More to come.
ARADALE tour operators have ceased operations, effective immediately, following what they say are concerns over lead in the paint.
The asylum is owned by Melbourne Polytechnic, which uses it for training courses, and tour operators say it only told them Thursday they would have to cease operations as soon as this weekend.
Eerie Tours runs popular paranormal tours there.
It posted a Facebook notice Friday stating that it is working with authorities to 'mitigate risk' but said there was no risk to customers.
Director Nathaniel Buchanan said he hoped the asylum would only be closed for a short time but it was too early to confirm a timeline.
"The problem is not exposure to the customer, it's prolonged exposure to the guides, so we are beginning to research it so that we can begin to negotiate how to mitigate the long term exposure to staff," he said.
The operator is working with Tourism Victoria and Melbourne Polytechnic to resolve the issue, and will have to consult medical authorities.
Mr Buchanan said he was concerned about the impact on the local tourism economy as a result of the fall out.
"I had 12 people booked in tonight that had arrived from Perth specifically to come," he said.
"This weekend it would have been around 200 people coming from all over the place. It's going to smash the local tourism economy."
Friends of J Ward is a voluntary group which runs day tours at Aradale and J Ward and assistant secretary Geoff White said it was a surprise the closure happened so quickly.
"We found out yesterday about 2 o'clock when they (Melbourne Polytechnic) came up to see us," Mr White said.
"I think they'd already been to the (Ararat Rural City) council and then they contacted me and said 'can we meet with them?'
"It's a bit of a surprise that it's so quick. We find out yesterday and then we've got to start ringing people about bookings and bus groups. We do online bookings so all the people who have made bookings, we've got to contact them and give them their money back. We have bus groups booked to November."
Mr White said the closure could have far reaching consequences on the volunteer group, which is entirely self-funded through ticket sales.
"Of course weekends like the Melbourne Cup Weekend and Easter, when we do special tours up there, it's going to hit us pretty hard because we get pretty big numbers," he said.
"The other way it's going to impact us is people will hear the asylum in Ararat is closed but they won't distinguish between Aradale and J Ward.
"What happened last time is they thought both had closed."
Aradale was closed several years ago for a couple of months due to vandalism.
"It's about getting the word out there that J Ward is a goer," Mr White said.
"We sell joint tickets for J Ward and Aradale and often numbers are boosted for both by people who buy that joint ticket, because it's a cheaper ticket. That's out the window now."
More to come.
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