Xylene is a dangerous chemical. KUPPET tells KNEC, Education Ministry

KUPPET to seek compensation for teachers exposed to Xylene during the 2019 KCSE Practicals in Chemistry

The Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers, KUPPET, has blamed the Kenya National Examinations Council, KNEC, and the Ministry of Education over decision to use life threatening chemical substances in the Chemistry Practical done on Friday. Several Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education,KCSE, candidates, teachers, Supervisors and invigilators have reportedly been taken ill after exposure to xylene, a suspected deadly chemical used during chemistry paper three exam (Practical) that was done on Friday.

According to KUPPET Secretary General Akello Misori, some teachers are reportedly suffering from Xylene related side effects; with a handful being admitted at various health facilities. Misori wonders why this dangerous chemical was used instead of other safer substitutes. The Union says it will seek compensation for the affected teachers. Education cabinet secretary on Monday dismissed the assertions that the chemical posed threat to students and teachers; a stand that angered KUPPET who termed the response as casual and reckless. Other chemicals used in the Practical and which pose health risks are: Bromine and Calcium Hypochlorite- This is according to KUPPET.

“Many students and teachers have complained of the side effects after exposure to the Chemicals (Xylene, Calcium hypochlorite and Bromine),” Said Misori in a press conference held in Nairobi on Monday November 11, 2019. The KUPPET Secretary General said two teachers assigned to Tidae Girls in Kwanza and St Monica Girls High School in Kitale have since been hospitalized as a result of Xylene poisoning. “We urge the KNEC to adopt well-established safety measures to protect teachers and students during future practical exams,” advised Misori.

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha and his Permanent Secretary Dr Belio Kipsang on their part dismissed the claims saying students and teachers were already exposed to more dangerous chemicals like chlorine in their normal teaching.

“Most of the substances used in chemistry are dangerous. The substance of xylene that they by talking about, is not as dangerous as chlorine and these substances have been used since I was in highschool.” Magoha noted

“These people trying to make noise and pass information to the public may have expected a particular chemical.” Doctor Kipsang said.

“We have not heard any formal complain, chemistry teachers will tell you that these are the chemicals they have been using in their normal teaching processes.” added Kipsang.

Teachers’ Fury

Teachers Manning the Chemistry practical exam castigated the Kenya National Examinations Council, KNEC, for exposing them and candidates to Xylene; a known, poisonous, organic compound. After the Chemistry Practical that was done on Friday November 8, 2019 the teachers could not hide their anger; pouring to social media to condemn the council.

“Ifikie KNEC and TSC ( To KNEC and the Teachers Service Commission; TSC)

Xylene is carcinogenic and very harzadous☢♨🚯🚹🚺

I’m sure most of us here today (on Friday) witnessed the grave danger Chemistry teachers were exposed to during the KCSE Chemistry practical, Kuppet as our voice should not let this opportunity pass, use it to the advantage of science teachers,” wrote one teacher.

“I personally suffered from the effects of the chemical. Even now, I have breathing difficulties. How I wish teachers came together and demonstrated against this insensitivity to make the KNEC answerable. If this situation continues, I will seek medical attention with a view to instituting legal proceedings against KNEC. Let teachers be respected, they are not trash to be treated as such. How can such important professionals be exposed so dangerously to carcinogenic organic chemicals? It pains to see that there is no organised organization coming out to defend the teachers. It pains”, complained another teacher.

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Principals have also raised concerns over the inflated cost of the chemical. “I spent close to Sh30,000 on this reagent (Xylene), alone. A litre was trading at Sh10,000 and given that I have 300 candidates (and each candidate required 10ml of the chemical) the school had to buy 3 Litres. What is so special with this reagent!” Wondered a school principal who sought for anonymity.

Of irritating to the Science teachers is also the failure by KNEC to recognize their supportive role in administration of the exams. Whereas other Professionals who are involved in exam administration are remunerated, teachers thronging the exam centres to prepare the exams walk home empty handed. “The Biology practical is slated for this coming Friday. I will spend a cool Sh3,000 to school and back home,” complained one teacher; involved in administration of the KCSE exams.

Back to Xylene

The hazards of xylene are well documented. Breathing xylene vapors in small amounts can cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. With more serious exposure, xylene can cause sleepiness, stumbling, irregular heartbeat, fainting, or even death. Xylene vapors are mildly irritating to the skin, eyes, and lungs.

The nervous system, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, and kidneys are primarily affected by exposure to xylene. Effects due to exposure to Xylene include:

  • Labored Breathing
  • Impaired Pulmonary Function
  • Increased Heart Palpitation
  • Severe Chest Pain
  • Accumulation of Fluid in Lungs
  • Respiratory Depression or Arrest
  • Ventricular Arrhythmias

Symptoms of Xylene exposure include:

  • Eye Irritation
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Incoordination
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach Discomfort
  • Impaired Short-term Memory
  • Impaired Reaction Time
  • Alterations in Equilibrium
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to Concentrate
  • Lack of Muscle Coordination
  • Death
  • Coma
  • Impaired Vision
  • Paralysis
  • Skin Irritation

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