TENTERFIELD schools have again missed out on having their unflued gas heaters replaced after the state government announced that it will only replace them once they are at the end of their serviceable life.
Both Tenterfield High School and Sir Henry Parkes Memorial Public School (SHPMPS) still use the unflued gas heaters, some of which are about 30 years old.
Principal at SHPMPS Glenn Daniels said he has real concerns about the heaters’ impact on the health of students and staff.
“This is definitely a concern,” Mr Daniels said.
“I have had complaints from students and their parents about headaches, dizziness and a gassy smell.
“These buildings are very cold, especially during winter. We’re all about providing a good setting for education for the children, and if we can’t put a heater on during winter then we are not providing that good learning environment.”
When they are turned on the unflued heaters release harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide directly into the classroom.
Although difficult to detect, carbon monoxide has a toxic effect in humans. It deprives the body of oxygen, slowing down reflexes and thinking.
Breathing in higher levels can cause irritation of the respiratory tract and shortness of breath.
To counter this, teachers are advised to have windows open to create the necessary cross wind.
But principal at Tenterfield High School, Steven Holmes said this seems to defeat the purpose of having the heaters on in the first place.
“Early in the morning the classrooms are the same temperature as outside, so if it is minus 4 or minus 5 degrees outside it is the same inside the classroom,” he said.
“They [the heaters] should probably be replaced for two reasons. One, they are a health and safety risk to staff and students and two, many of them are inoperable.”
Mr Holmes said most of the heaters at the high school have been there for more than 30 years and students and staff had got used to not using them.
He said flued gas heaters were set to be installed in the school’s new technical block, and students were looking forward to using them come winter time.
A number of years ago members of staff lost their climate allowance which Mr Holmes said was disappointing.
“I never understood why Tenterfield was never considered cold enough, given how chilly it gets here in winter,” he said.
This is also a view shared by Member for the Northern Tablelands Richard Torbay who said he has written to the education minister Adrian Piccoli on the issue.
“It is a matter of great concern to school communities in the Northern Tablelands and quite unfair that young people with respiratory conditions should be exposed to risk because of faulty government equipment.”
An environmental risk assessment completed last year recommended against the replacement of unflued gas heaters, because less harmful heaters were more expensive.
Mr Piccolli said to replace 48,000 low emissions unflued heaters was going to cost the government an estimated $300 million, an amount not currently budgeted for.
He said the government would install flued gas heaters in new schools or in existing schools if the majority of heaters in the school needed replacing.