NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 11 – The Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) on Monday vowed to instituted legal action against the Ministry of Education and the Kenya National Examination Council for authorizing the use of Xylene – a colorless, sweet-smelling liquid solvent – in the ongoing Kenya Certificate for Secondary Education (KCSE) exams.
The chemical was used by the students who sat for Chemistry Paper III – practical exam – exposing them alongside their teachers to long term health complications, the union stated.
Speaking at a press conference in Nairobi, the KUPPET Secretary General Akello Misori vowed to sue for damages on behalf of two teachers he said had developed breathing complications after handling the harmful chemical.
“Many students and teachers have complained of the side effects after exposure the chemical,” he said.
In Trans Nzoia county two teachers are said to be in hospital after being exposed to Xylene.
The two teachers were assigned to Tidae Girls High School in Kwanza and St. Monica Girls High School in Kitale.
In the second incident, an expectant supervisor was admitted at Galilee Medical Center for further medical examination.
KUPPET accused KNEC of failing to recommend the use of safe chemicals, saying other than health complications, there were no proper disposal measures put in place.
The union said safe handling of the solvent required the use of gloves and protective glasses.
KUPPET noted Xylene can only be used in a properly ventilated laboratory and in most cases would require mechanical ventilation also referred to as artificial ventilation.
The chemical can cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea sleepiness, stumbling, irregular heartbeat, fainting, irritating to the skin, eyes and lungs.
Acute ingestion of the chemical can lead to deaths, according to online taxology registries.
“We urge the KNEC to adopt well-established safety measures to protect teachers and students during future practical exams,” Misori said.
Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha and Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang defended Kenya National Examination Council’s (KNEC) decision to deploy Xylene for Chemistry practicals.
Responding to safety concerns raised by KUPPET, Prof Magoha said chemistry instructors had been trained on safe handling of the chemical.
“Most of chemicals used in chemistry are harmful, Xylene in this case is not as dangerous as Chlorine and Bromine and have been used since when I was in high school,” the CS pointed out.
“Those people trying to make noise and misinforming the public may have expected a different substance.”
He urged examination centres to take standard precautionary measures.
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