Rotorua Lakes High School has closed its science laboratories amid nationwide fears gauze mats used with Bunsen burners at schools may be contaminated with a rare form of asbestos.

More than 113 schools across the country that have been supplied the mats since April 2016 have been asked to dispose of them and the product, originally from China, is being recalled.

But Rotorua Lakes High School principal Bruce Walker said his school didn't think that action was going far enough and it has instead closed the labs and got the mats tested itself.

The school is waiting for the results to confirm if asbestos is present.


Walker said the school felt testing the mats and air within the labs was the right thing to do - so staff and students could be assured it was safe to go back inside.

"A couple of the teachers expressed concern about going back in there and I don't blame them ... We made the call we would close the labs until we could say safely to parents it is safe."

Walker said the school should know the test results by today.

"We didn't think it was on [not to close the labs] in terms of health and safety. If it comes back to bite us in the bum [if asbestos is present] then we know we did what we needed to do."

He said students were using the school's auditorium and other empty classrooms for their science classes until the all-clear was given.

The Ministry of Education has confirmed it advised more 113 schools of the potential danger but it was unsure how many other schools had closed their labs because it had not asked them to.

Ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey said the ministry had been advised that analysis of two types of ceramic Bunsen burner gauze mat had confirmed they contained the rare Tremolite asbestos.

The asbestos gauze mat is a bonded product, similar to asbestos sheeting in houses, and is considered low risk.

Casey said the Ministry of Health had said the risk to students and staff who had been using the mats was likely to be very low, provided the mats were in good condition.

She said suppliers had contacted schools and were advising how to safely dispose of any contaminated mats.


"We have provided all schools with the relevant health and safety information and support."

The product would be recalled and trading standards within the Ministry of Business Innovation and Environment would be working with the suppliers, Casey said.

"The wellbeing of our students and staff is paramount and we will continue to work with the appropriate agencies to identify all suppliers and schools with this product."

The dangers of asbestos
* Fibres are easily inhaled and carried into the lower regions of the lung where they can cause fibrotic lung disease (asbestosis) and changes in the lining of the chest cavity (pleura).
* These diseases can lead to reduced respiratory function and death.
* Long-term inhalation of asbestos fibres also increases the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.