Investigation into unflued heaters: health dangers prompt inquiry

NSW Teachers’ Federation spokeswoman for Molong Central School Lin Eccleston welcomes the Department of Education and Communities’ (DEC) investigation into the unflued heaters at the school.

Ms Eccleston said teachers, students and parents wanted unflued gas heaters removed from Molong Central School and planned protest action had been cancelled. 

“In a major step forward, the DEC has indicated that a full and comprehensive inquiry into the operation of the heaters will now take place,” she said.

“We would expect that air quality and toxic discharges such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde will be monitored.”

Ms Eccleston expected documented student and teacher health issues arising from the use of the heaters, including fatigue, asthma, nausea and headaches to be considered.

“The department must explain how an unflued gas heater, which supposedly passed a 14-point safety check in March, could lead in May to a gas leak that saw a teacher and more than a dozen students hospitalised,” she said.

“Since this critical incident other heaters, which supposedly passed this same safety check, have repeatedly malfunctioned.”

Ms Eccleston said it was disturbing to hear member for Orange Andrew Mr Gee say he was unaware or not informed that such a serious serious incident had occurred in one of his schools.

“The gas leak on May 22 was front-page news in this region and made statewide news services,” she said.

“He certainly has made no effort since to check on the welfare of teachers and students at Molong Central School. Further, correspondence indicates that contact with the DEC from the school was made around this issue.”

However, Mr Gee said it was “false, disappointing and ludicrous,” to say he wasn’t aware of the incident in May.

Mr Gee said when the incident occurred, Fire and Rescue NSW and the Education Minister’s office had kept him abreast of developments. 

“It was quite clear that my intervention was not necessary,” he said.

“The fact remains that until Wednesday of this week, not a single teacher, parent or member of the Teacher’s Federation contacted me with regard to on-going issues with heaters at the school.

“If there’s an on-going problem I would have thought that your local member would be your first port of call.

“(The) area director of education, Maree Angus, has also confirmed with me that she had contact with the school after the incident in May about getting the heater in question fixed, but prior to this week had not been contacted or made aware by the school of any on-going heater issues.

“As soon as the issue was raised with me for the first time on Wednesday, I contacted the Minister for Education directly as well as the local Department of Education office to have the matter investigated.

“On any view, that’s a fast response. “