Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha on Monday defended Kenya National Examination Council’s (KNEC) decision to deploy Xylene – a colorless, sweet-smelling liquid solvent – in the ongoing Kenya Certificate for Secondary Education (KCSE) exams.
Magoha who was responding to safety concerns raised by Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET), said chemistry instructors had been trained on the safe handling of the chemical. “Most of the 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 centers to take standard precautionary measures. The chemical was used by the students who sat for Chemistry Paper III – practical exam – and reportedly caused some teachers health complications, the KUPEET stated.
Speaking at a press conference in Nairobi, 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 to the chemical,” he said.
In Trans Nzoia county two teachers are said to be in the 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 to 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 headaches, 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.
This article was first written on Captial News.