Three Tauranga schools have been involved in an asbestos scare, prompting at least one to close its science department temporarily.

Tauranga Girls' College, Otumoetai College and Aquinas College are included on a list of several Bay of Plenty schools being asked by the Ministry of Education to check and remove gauze mats used with Bunsen burners.

The Ministry of Education notified the schools that the mats might contain the rare Tremolite asbestos, the schools said.

Aquinas College principal Matt Dalton said the mats were removed and the school's science laboratories and storage spaces were closed "until independent testing could determine these were safe for our students and staff".


The school engaged an asbestos consultant and sent the mats away for testing alongside swabs. The tests did not detect asbestos in any mats or learning spaces, Dalton said.

Otumoetai College principal Russell Gordon said he received an email last week and had gone through invoices to determine the school did have some of the mats.

"We then contacted waste management to make sure we were following due protocol to dispose of the mats. All of the offending mats have now been disposed of. They have been destroyed."

The other schools are Kaharoa School, John Paul College, Western Heights High School and Rotorua Lakes High School. The latter also closed its science labs.

Rotorua Lakes High School principal Bruce Walker said his school didn't think removing the mats was going far enough and closed the labs until they got their results back from tests.

Walker said the results confirmed there was no asbestos present in the mats and he was comfortable the air would be clean, and he reopened the labs just after 10am yesterday.

Walker said he had received several messages from students and parents who were pleased the school took the matter seriously.

... this process as detailed above did cause disruption and concern.


The ministry confirmed 113 schools nationwide had been supplied the mats since April 2016.

Ministry spokeswoman Katrina Casey said it was important to note not all suppliers of the products had been identified.

One supplier, which the Bay of Plenty Times has not named as it was potentially one of many suppliers, said it was surprised to learn the initial tests of the mats had found asbestos.

The supplier said the business immediately recalled all the products sold since April 2016, even though it was possible only one shipment of the mats, which came from China, was affected.

"We are trying hard to do the right thing. We will provide replacement mats for the schools and pay for any disposal costs.

"We were as surprised as they [the schools] were to find that stuff in our products."

Tauranga Girls' College, John Paul College and Kaharoa School did not respond before deadline.

Bay of Plenty schools supplied the mats
Western Heights High School
John Paul College
Kaharoa School
Tauranga Girls' College
Whakatane Intermediate
Rotorua Lakes High School
Otumoetai College
Aquinas College