Castle Hill High School asbestos test positive in 2016, staff questions, students exhibit


Teachers have made a horrific discovery after demanding an investigation into dust falling from the ceiling – and now say pupils’ lives are at risk.

Questions have been raised over whether thousands of pupils and teachers at NSW’s largest high school have been potentially exposed to asbestos for years, even after a dust sample came back positive for the material deadly.

News.com.au can reveal that a major investigation is currently underway into the circumstances surrounding Castle Hill High School’s test result, which came four years before the NSW Department of Education announced that asbestos was discovered there in 2020.

Staff members say they were so concerned about the white dust falling from the ceilings that they repeatedly pleaded with the school to carry out tests, even going so far as to ‘sweep it up in a zip lock bag’ themselves and put her back in school.

“People were sweeping the dust from that staff room, the library and other staff rooms and taking it to the [school] asking for it to be tested for years,” a teacher told news.com.au.

“It sounds absurd and it is. People were just like, ‘When are they going to test that fucking dust? More of that fell on us today.

A sample, taken from the Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE) staff room in 2016, returned a positive test for chrysotile, white asbestos, and amosite, brown asbestos – thought to be l one of the most dangerous types – but staff were told the test had come back ‘all clear’.

Although the report refers to asbestos, it does not specify whether the material posed a risk of exposure.

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The certificate of analysis from the Clearsafe Environmental Solutions laboratory in Wollongong was presented to the school on July 29, 2016.

School WHS committee meeting minutes dated August 1, 2016 read: “Ceiling in B5/HSIE staff room – pieces falling off where new lights are installed – samples sent for analysis . Everything is clear in block B, always checking the other areas of the school. »

The teacher claimed the use of “everything is fine” in the report “directly refers to the negative test”.

“Why, when the test came back positive, [the school] say it came back negative? »

Four years later, the Department for Education announced that ‘previously unknown asbestos’ had been found in the roof cavity of Castle Hill Secondary School during a ‘proactive inspection programme’ , that the remediation work had been completed and that there was a “low or negligible risk of exposure”. airborne hazardous materials.

“All work has been completed in accordance with SafeWork NSW regulations and a clearance certificate has been issued by an independent hygienist confirming that students and staff are safe to occupy the rooms,” the department said at the time.

Several teachers then complained to the Department for Education, saying they had raised concerns years earlier.

In April this year Castle Hill Secondary School Principal Georgie Fleming told staff in an email that the Education Department had ‘recently been made aware’ of the 2016 Certificate of Analysis. .

Ms Fleming was not at school when the tests were carried out in 2016.

“Based on information available to the department, it is unclear where in the staff room the sample was taken or how it was taken,” she wrote.

“The certificate indicates that the sample was composed of fiber cement sheets (FCS) and other fibres. Laboratory analysis detected the presence of Chrysotile (white) and Amosite (brown) asbestos fibres. The certificate was provided to SafeWork NSW and the Department’s Staff Health, Safety and Welfare Directorate.

SafeWork NSW is now investigating exactly who knew what and when, to determine whether the school breached asbestos management policies.

The Department of Education’s Professional and Ethical Standards Branch (PES) is also investigating.

News.com.au understands that the explosive 2016 document was not recovered until April 6 this year when PES investigators reconstructed staff email inboxes, after being made aware of the existence of the test during interviews with several complainants.

The 2016 test was organized by a former assistant general, whose name appears next to the “everything is fine” comment in WHS committee minutes.

There is no suggestion that he committed any wrongdoing.

But asking the school’s AG to arrange an asbestos test appears to have been a violation of official policy, which directs schools to refer any suspicious cases to the Department of Health’s Asset Management Unit. education.

“[The policy says] if staff report dust falling call this number and we will send someone,” a second teacher told news.com.au.

After the 2016 test, several staff members registered requests in the school’s internal issue tracking system demanding to see a copy of the results.

“No one has ever seen the test,” said the first teacher.

“People have made requests to see the test, saying we still have dust falling on us. These were all noted as seen, implemented, completed, but they did nothing.

In an entry dated August 16, 2018, a woman wrote, “I would like to see the report regarding the test for particles falling from the ceiling. I haven’t seen the report. The particles keep falling [the] four years and I still breathe them. There are a number of staff rooms with this complaint. I sit at my desk and breathe in these fine particles every day.

The issue was marked as “closed” by the school’s WHS officer on December 6, 2018.

On November 16, 2018, another woman recorded a report of falling pieces of vermiculite ceiling in the library and warned that “staff and students” were in danger.

“Pieces might fall on their heads and dust in their eyes,” she wrote. “What’s in the vermiculite? Does it contain asbestos?

This entry was also marked “closed” several months later with no apparent response.

Earlier this month, a young Victorian woman won a payout from the state government after developing terminal cancer after inhaling deadly asbestos dust while a primary school pupil Footscray North in the early 2000s.

Jasmine Thomas, 27, has filed a civil suit for $2.1million after doctors discovered multiple tumors while the mom-to-be was undergoing her first ultrasound.

The State of Victoria has settled for an undisclosed sum, the sun herald reported.

The second teacher from Castle Hill said: ‘At some point everyone at school has lessons there, you can’t avoid it. They don’t know how much bullshit fell [if any].”

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell confirmed the “serious allegations” were being investigated.

“I was made aware of asbestos allegations at Castle Hill High School last month,” she said in a statement to news.com.au.

“These are serious allegations which are being investigated by both the Department of Education’s Professional and Ethical Standards Unit and SafeWork NSW.”

A Department of Education spokeswoman said: “Sanitation work at the school has been completed, with air monitoring carried out in 2020 and 2021. The Department is satisfied that there is no currently no asbestos problem at the school.

Castle Hill MP Ray Williams issued a public statement on Tuesday.

“Last Thursday afternoon I met with teachers and parents from Castle Hill High School,” he said.

“During this meeting I received information including a positive asbestos test which was taken at Castle Hill Secondary School in 2016. Following this 2016 asbestos test at secondary school Castle Hill, the school community was informed that he was [all clear] for asbestos, when in fact it was positive.

Although the test confirmed traces of asbestos in the building, it did not confirm whether there was a risk of exposure.

“Teachers and parents believe the health of students, teachers and staff at Castle Hill High School has been seriously compromised after years of exposure to asbestos,” Mr Williams continued.

“CHHS teachers and parents have filed numerous complaints about asbestos with the Department of Education over several years, which still remain unanswered. As the MP for Castle Hill, I have a responsibility to keep my community safe.

A SafeWork NSW spokeswoman said inspectors were invited to Castle Hill High School in June 2020, after asbestos was identified.

“The impacted blocks were isolated from staff and students with encapsulation work completed in July 2020,” she said.

“SafeWork has visited the school numerous times since this incident and is satisfied that there are currently no asbestos issues at the school. SafeWork NSW is actively investigating the matter and no further comment is available at this time.

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