Students ‘exposed to banned chemicals’
STUDENTS at Oakey State High School were repeatedly exposed to banned and dangerous chemicals on school grounds, a former teacher at the school has claimed.
But his attempts to draw attention to the alleged unsafe practices appear to have fallen on deaf ears, with documents revealing authorities took so long to investigate they couldn't be sure whether the chemicals had been used at the school or not.
Qualified agriculture teacher Greg Priebe said he witnessed organophosphate pesticides - listed as prohibited chemicals by the Department of Education, Training and Employment - including Maldison 50, Maldison 500 and Lebaycid being stored and used on the school grounds in 2015.
Mr Priebe told The Courier-Mail he had witnessed the Maldison chemicals being used off-label to wash goats and claims it was "common practice" at the school.
"Both (chemicals) were being regularly and repeatedly used by students in class settings with no personal protection equipment, exposing them either during application or through residual contact," he said.
Despite providing alleged photographic evidence of the chemicals being stored on the school grounds and making an immediate complaint in May 2015, Mr Priebe's allegations were not investigated by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland until 2016 - months after he first made them.
In fact, authorities took so long to investigate his complaint that an investigation outcome report provided to Mr Priebe in 2018 from the Integrity and Employee Relations Unit stated the complaint was now "unable to be tested", given the storage of chemicals was now observed to be compliant.
"Your complaints related specifically to the actions ... in 2015 which are now unable to be tested, given storage of chemicals and general housekeeping have been observed by an independent authority to be compliant," the report said.
The report said Workplace Health and Safety Queensland was satisfied with the way chemicals were stored at the school and went on to say the department considered the matter closed and no further action would be taken.
In the four years since he says he witnessed the chemicals being used by students, Mr Priebe has made multiple complaints to education stakeholders.
He contacted his local member Pat Weir, who in turn wrote to Education Minister Grace Grace in March.
Ms Grace replied two months later, saying she was satisfied the department had adequately addressed Mr Priebe's concerns and that the matter was now closed.
Mr Priebe has also contacted the Crime and Corruption Commission, the Queensland Ombudsman and the Queensland College of Teachers. All declined to further investigate.
Today, he is speaking out in the hopes of finally having his concerns addressed.
"Since the misconduct was first reported in 2015, every organisation and entity responsible for guaranteeing the safety of children in schools were given the opportunity to act and every single one has failed," he said.
"Parents of children everywhere in Queensland, especially the Oakey Community, have every right to be furious at the Education Department (and every other entity) who failed their responsibility to protect these children.
"Any parent would be devastated to learn their children have been repeatedly exposed to dangerous chemicals that might have future health ramifications, knowing that information was purposely kept from them."
Organophosphate poisoning has been linked to a number of long-term complications, including cancer, fertility issues, neurological issues and muscle weakness.
"The assessments found the school is compliant with the storage and use of chemicals as described in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld)," the department said.