NSW Gov refuses to reveal schools using toxic gas heaters
HARMFUL unflued gas heaters are still used in the majority of the state's public schools despite a government promise to remove them from classrooms eight years ago.
But exactly who is being exposed to the potentially toxic fumes emitted by the heaters remains a secret after the NSW Education Department refused to reveal which schools were still using them.
Other Australian states have banned unflued heaters from sale because they release pollutants directly into classrooms and can have adverse health effects.
The state government pledged to remove the 48,000 low-emission unflued gas heaters from schools in 2012 - but now says the unflued heaters are safe to use.
Department information provided to NSW parliament this year reveals most schools still have the dangerous heaters.
"The majority of schools have unflued gas heaters, many of which are being removed from classrooms and libraries as part of the Cooler Classrooms Program," the Education Department said in an answer to supplementary budget estimate questions in parliament.
"An accurate list of heating facilities in NSW public schools is not available."
It noted 900 schools would have the heaters replaced under the Cooler Classrooms program, which is installing split-system airconditioners that will heat schools in winter.
But NSW Labor said even once airconditioning is installed, hundreds of schools could be stuck with unflued gas heaters.
"It beggars belief that (NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell's) response to dangerous unflued gas heaters in our classrooms is that she doesn't know where they are," opposition education spokeswoman Prue Car said.
"The government said they would remove these dangerous unflued heaters more than eight years ago; now they say they don't know where these heaters are. It's not good enough."
Asthma Australia chief executive Michele Goldman said the heaters pumped the particles associated with car exhaust into classrooms.
"They are unsafe and should have been banned years ago, as they have been in classrooms across the rest of Australia," she said.
"Unflued gas heating releases pollution directly into the air you breathe, triggering conditions like asthma and impacting health generally."
An Education Department spokesman said an environmental health risk assessment was undertaken by independent consultants in 2011 and found "that low-nox unflued heating of the type in NSW public schools is safe".