The origin of non-friable asbestos discovered at a Canberra school is unclear, raising questions about where else it might be found and who may have been exposed to it.
The ACT government confirmed on Thursday that "a small amount" of non-friable asbestos had been found in garden beds at Harrison School, which remains open despite concerns being raised over children's safety.
A playground in the preschool area of the school was surrounded by temporary fencing on Thursday afternoon.
Harrison School referred enquiries to the government's education directorate, which said the asbestos was mixed with gravel and recycled building materials in garden beds.
The directorate said the material was in "some" garden beds, but did not provide an exact number.
"Tests by a licensed asbestos assessor who attended the school have confirmed it is non-friable asbestos, and exposure to airborne asbestos is unlikely unless disturbed," an education directorate spokesperson said.
"To eliminate the chance of it being disturbed, the affected garden beds have been fenced off."
The spokesperson said a licensed asbestos removalist would begin removing the material in the coming days, and staff would ensure children were safe by keeping them away from affected areas.
The directorate did not address a question about how the material came to be at the school, and whether it had been brought in by a government or external contractor.
Education Minister Yvette Berry said the situation was being managed safely and the potentially dangerous area was cordoned off.
Ms Berry addressed the media outside the ACT Legislative Assembly early on Thursday afternoon after she returned from another engagement to see the Canberra Liberals holding a press conference about the asbestos issue.
The Liberals blasted the government for not shutting the school to ensure children's safety as soon as the issue came to light.
They also questioned why the public had not been informed earlier, given WorkSafe has confirmed that it was notified of the asbestos discovery on Wednesday.
An angry Ms Berry dismissed the Opposition's comments as outrageous scaremongering and political point-scoring, promising to provide more information as soon as the government had it.
She said the Liberals had asked her office for a briefing two minutes before they held their press conference.
"I will find out exactly what the issue is in that particular school, if its happening anywhere else and provide all the information to the community and ensure that they are kept safe, which I am being assured that they are," Ms Berry said.
"It is being cordoned off [and] there is nobody able to access it right now.
"Once all the investigations have occurred, then we can come out to the community with all the information that I have."
Her comments came after ACT Opposition leader Alistair Coe, Liberal planning spokesman Mark Parton, education spokeswoman Elizabeth Lee and industrial relations spokesman Andrew Wall raised concerns about what the government was doing to handle the asbestos issue.
"We can only assume that the material has been used in other places," Mr Parton said.
"... We also know that in cases like this, where asbestos-contaminated material is found at a building site, that the whole thing is shut down.
"We think there are serious questions to be asked about the governments response to this."
Mr Parton said the education directorate's failure to address how the asbestos came to be at the school spoke volumes.
"To say that they haven't addressed that question is to say that they probably don't know," he said.
He was astounded Ms Berry did not know about the issue until minutes before the Liberals' press conference.
Mr Coe said he was particularly concerned by the government's response given the involvement of children.
Harrison School is one of Canberra's newest schools, having opened in 2008. It caters for children from preschool to Year 10 and has more than 1400 students.