Magoha dismisses Kuppet claims on ‘harmful’ chemical
Education Cabinet secretary George Magoha yesterday downplayed claims a chemical used in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) Chemistry practical exam is harmful to teachers and students.
He defended the decision by Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) to use xylene—a solvent—in the Chemistry Paper III amid reports that many teachers and candidates exposed to the chemical had been taken ill.
He was responding to concerns raised earlier in the day by the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet), which threatened to sue the ministry and Knec for allowing the use of xylene.
Kuppet Secretary General Akello Misori said the union was assessing the situation to establish the extent of effects on teachers with a view to seeking compensation.
But Magoha described the reports as untrue and misinforming, saying no learner or teacher was affected by exposure to the chemical.
“Going back to the issue which took place on Friday in Chemistry, I am a physician and you cannot be one without being good in chemistry. I can tell you the reports you have been seeing is not true,” said the CS after supervising dispatch of Mathematics paper in Lang’ata.
“A chemistry laboratory is supposed to have, to the very best, a hood that takes away gases and where there is none we ensure all windows are open during the experiments...most of the substances we use in chemistry are dangerous. Xylene is not as dangerous as chlorine or bromine and these substances have been used from the time I was in high school,” the CS added.
But addressing a press conference in Nairobi, Kuppet dismissed the CS’s explanation and vowed to seek redress.
Misori said xylene produces dangerous fumes that when inhaled can lead to breathing problems and death in the long run or, in some instances, cancer.
“Many teachers and students have complained of side effects after exposure to the chemical. Our executive secretary in Trans Nzoia has verified the cases of two teachers affected by the chemical,” he said.
He cited the case of expectant supervisor at Tidae Girls High School in Kwanza, who he said, is admitted at a medical facility in Kitale and another from St Monica Girls as those affected by the exposure to the chemical.
Misori said safety data sheet of xylene indicates that it is a hazardous chemical flammable in liquid and vapour, may be harmful if swallowed, causes skin and eye irritation, may damage fertility of unborn child and toxic to aquatic life.
The union urged Knec to adopt well-established safety measures to protect candidates and teachers during future exams.
According to Kuppet, other incidents were also reported in Nakuru, Tharaka Nithi, Kiambu and West Pokot counties.
Separately, Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) criticised use of xylene.
“Xylene is poisonous and rarely handled in school laboratories. What informed Knec to choose a dangerous chemical that would endanger the lives of students and teachers?” posed secretary general Wilson Sossion, in a statement.
“Knec should take full responsibility and compensate affected learners,” he added.
And in Naivasha, Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang insisted the chemicals used were safe.
This is despite Kuppet officials in Kisumu saying they had received several complaints of health complications following exposure to xylene.
Reporting by Irene Githinji, Kirera Mwiti, Noven Owiti and KNA