A damning report has revealed Castle Hill High School in NSW detected two forms of asbestos four years before anything was done about it, despite staff members insisting something was wrong.
In 2020, the NSW Department of Education announced “previously unknown asbestos” had been found in the school’s ceilings. It removed students from the area, cleared the hazardous material and assured staff that there was now a “low” or “negligible” risk to exposure.
However, it’s now been revealed the school actually tested positive to asbestos four years earlier and didn’t notify staff.
News.com.au obtained a certificate of analysis issued by Clearsafe which shows a dust sample taken from a HSIE staffroom actually tested positive to both white and brown asbestos way back in 2016.
Despite that, notes from a Work, Health and Safety meeting in August the same year said the samples were found to be “all clear”.
In April this year, Castle Hill High School principal Georgie Fleming (who wasn’t at the school during 2016) told staff in an email that the Education Department had only “recently” been made aware of the 2016 positive test result.
Naturally, staff are pissed.
Castle Hill MP @RayWilliamsMP says there are concerns the health of students and staff at a local high school "has been severely compromised following years of exposure to asbestos". A 2016 test at Castle Hill High earlier thought to be negative, was actually positive pic.twitter.com/uAXfH3FV8G— Gavin Coote (@GavinCoote) May 31, 2022
According to news.com.au, teachers were so worried about the suspicious white dust falling on them that for years they persistently begged authorities to sort it out. Some even told the publication they would “sweep it up into a zip-lock bag” themselves to try to have it tested.
“People were sweeping up dust from that staffroom, the library and other staffrooms and taking it to the [school] asking for it to be tested for years,” one staff member told news.com.au.
“That sounds absurd and it is. People were just like, ‘When are they going to test this fricking dust? More of it fell on us today.’”
News.com.au reported that there were multiple complaints after the test was conducted where teachers demanded to see the clear result themselves, which went unresolved. Some shared their concerns that other areas of the school were still hazardous.
“People made requests to see the test, saying we still have dust falling on us. Those were all noted as seen, actioned, finished, but they did nothing,” a teacher said.
“Why, when the test came back positive, would [the school] say it came back negative?”
News.com.au also revealed the official policy around suspected asbestos instructs schools to refer cases to the Education Department’s Asset Management Unit, not to handle it internally. In this case the policy was breached.
FYI, inhaling asbestos is incredibly dangerous. Just this year, a young Victorian woman won a civil claim from the state government after she developed terminal cancer from inhaling asbestos dust when she was a student at Footscray North Primary School.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell has now confirmed the situation at the school is under investigation.
“I was made aware last month of allegations regarding asbestos at Castle Hill High School,” she said in a statement to news.com.au.
“These are serious allegations that are the subject of investigations by both the Department of Education’s Professional and Ethical Standards unit and SafeWork NSW.”
SafeWork said it is actively investigating the complaints and cannot comment at this time.