Winter means wheezing in NSW
The Asthma Foundation NSW has slammed a decision by the NSW Government not to replace unflued gas heaters in schools until the end of their service life – which ‘could be decades,’ says Michele Goldman, CEO of the Asthma Foundation NSW.
‘NSW is the last state to still have unflued heaters in their schools,’ says Michele.
‘That adds to the extreme disappointment that we have over the decision: why should children in NSW be disadvantaged when their counterparts in the rest of the country, and in private schools, are able to learn in clean air environments?’
Michele says that the problem with unflued heaters is that gases produced in the process of making heat aren’t expelled from the classroom.
‘They’re pumped in, and children breathe them in. Research has clearly shown that children exposed to these heaters have increased symptoms, particularly of wheezing, which is a very common asthma symptom.
‘Anecdotally, people say their children are more sleepy, and this will impact their ability to learn; but most concerning is that it makes children unwell. At the extreme, we’ve had some parents pull their kids out of school to homeschool during the winter months.’
The problem is generally worse in colder climate areas; Michele says that in some regions, such as the Blue Mountains, parents have funded replacement heaters themselves.
‘In public schools, the government is responsible for maintenance. Having said that, it’s a costly exercise to replace all heaters, and we appreciate that, but a phased approach over a number of years would’ve been acceptable to communities in the top 100 cold climate schools, like the previous [state] government had started to do.’
She says that other funding options could have been explored, such as partial fund-raising or fund-raising incentives where the government matched funds.
While all children with asthma need management strategies over winter, these are particularly important for children attending schools with unflued gas heaters.
‘Parents should ensure that the child’s asthma is very well managed,’ Michele says. ‘We know people are a bit lax especially during the winter months, and in cold climate areas people should do everything in their power to be diligent in managing children’s asthma.
‘They can make sure that the asthma is reviewed at the beginning of winter with the GP, take preventer medication regularly and also review device technique, to make sure they’re deriving full benefit using a spaces, which allows for better deposition of medication into the lungs.
‘So hopefully even if they’re coming into contact with these fumes, their level of exposure will be reduced and they may demonstrate a reduction in symptoms.’
For more information on asthma management and promotion, click here.