Mandwandwe

Killer science labs…1 300 pupils in danger

Lisa Masuku
About 1 300 pupils at a Bulawayo High School are in danger of side effects that come with inhaling bromine mixed with water as one teacher died and six others (all in the science department) have been in and out of hospital while an unknown number of pupils have been reported to be sick.

It all began when on 15 February with an explosion at one of the school laboratories at  Mandwandwe High School in Nkulumane suburb and the Fire Brigade was called.

Thereafter, the Fire Brigade advised the school to shut down all three laboratories housed in one block.

But the school deputy headmaster Methuseli Moyo did not heed the advice from the Fire Brigade. The headmaster was not at work on that particular day. It was business as usual at the school and the result was the death of a teacher a few weeks later and sickness for six teachers and numerous pupils.

“The school was very negligent. We did not expect them to continue using the labs when everyone was complaining of the same symptoms. Any responsible person would have listened because these fumes were a great threat to people’s lives,” said Richard Peterson, the Bulawayo City Council’s Chief Fire Officer.

Sources at the school revealed to B-Metro that the dangerous substance affecting pupils and teachers was bromine.

The chemical reacts vigorously with metals, especially in the presence of water, to give bromide salts.

Some of the chemical’s dangers to the human body are listed as disruption of thyroid functions — whereby it affects hormonal production in the human body, forces pregnant women to fail to carry full term, mental illness, skin disorders and hearing loss among many others.

Since there is bromine in the air around the labs from a leak yet to be identified and the weather conditions humid as a result of the rains — the mixture of the two became deadly.

Trust Ncube, a science teacher at the school who died as a result of the bromine, developed symptoms similar to some mentioned above.

A senior member of staff at the school said prior to his death, Ncube had breathing problems, throat pains, itchy skin, rash and sore legs.

Speaking from her house in Nkulumane, Ncube’s wife (who declined identification) said she had more questions than answers about the death of her husband.

But since she is still grieving, she did not want to talk much.

“The story does not add up. Before the incident he was well,” she said.

When B-Metro went to the school a day before closing day, a parent had gone there to demand money to take her child to hospital.

“$50 was given to the mother of a Form 3 pupil to take her child to hospital today (Tuesday). She was furious and since this is a sensitive matter she was given the money,” said the source.

The school has since sought an audience with the parents through the School Development Association (SDA). In their meeting the headmaster Litmus Moyo told parents that there were deadly fumes coming from the laboratories and they hoped by beginning of next term the issue would have been dealt with.

Pressed for comment, the man at the centre of the labs botch-up, deputy headmaster Methuseli Moyo said            anything to do with the issue should come from the provincial education director’s office.

“We filed a report and everything to do with the matter is before provincial education director,” said Moyo.

When the story first broke and was reported by The Chronicle, the provincial education director Dan Moyo said there was an investigation under way.

When B-Metro called him on Wednesday, he said he had not yet received anything about the issue. “I have not received any information pertaining to that issue,” said Moyo. The school has a total of 1 300 pupils from form one to six. Classes in form one to four have compulsory science classes that are conducted at the laboratories.