Parliamentarians, nation updated on laboratory situation at the BHS

Minister of Education, Sen. the Hon. Nigel Carty

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, NOVEMBER 22ND (CUOPM) – The Ministry of Education has been working with a number of government agencies and some private sector organizations to address the dysfunction of a number of science labs and other related concerns at the Basseterre High School (BHS).

In a statement in the St. Kitts and Nevis National Assembly on Wednesday, Minister of Education, Sen. the Hon. Nigel Carty said that the use of the science laboratories in any school is of critical importance as part of the Ministry’s Science Programme and for this primary reason anything which hinders the accessibility and or availability of such is of serious concern to the Ministry of Education and the government.

“Moreover, the well-being of students, teachers and other staff at our nation’s schools is paramount. Our nation’s health is our nation’s wealth,” Mr. Carty said.

Speaking on the situation at the labs at the BHS, Minister Carty said it was drawn to the Ministry’s attention that some concerns connected with the possible or suspected dysfunction of the labs, their drainage system, the spillage of chemicals, or the existence of radioactive materials within the lab or the school, had been generated among staff and students at the school.

He told Parliamentarians and the Nation that reports have been made of persons becoming ill and developing a variety of unusual symptoms.

The Basseterre High School

“Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Education commissioned an investigation into the reports at the BHS to glean scientific information as a basis for its actions since the suspicions and concerns appeared wide and varied. The investigator, Dr. Milton Whitaker, was contracted to conduct an evaluation of the air quality in the Chemistry and Physics laboratories and the surrounding areas. He visited the school on four occasions. His scope of work involved mainly tests for radioactivity in the labs and interviews with teachers.

One of the findings of the investigation is categorically that there is no radioactivity within the labs or the school environment that could possibly have been the source of the reported concerns. His report informed that there is a small amount of radioactivity everywhere on earth and that the measurements taken at the BHS were fully consistent with this expectation.

The report also stated that some of the reports about burning eyes and skin irritation within the lab environment could have been as a result of a broken cap on a bottle of nitric acid, a standard lab chemical with which science teachers are very familiar. However, it would appear from the reports from some teachers that the skin and eye irritation symptoms were not confined to the lab environment. Indeed, even as the labs have been abandoned, reports of the symptoms have not abated and reportedly have come from persons on both sides, eastern and western, of the school’s campus.

Although no definitive conclusions could have been drawn from the Whittaker investigation with respect to the possible dysfunction of the drainage and sewage system, the report nonetheless recommended that consideration be given to upgrading or renovating these systems to remove any possibility of their being the source of the reported concerns.

My ministry understands that the SKTU has taken action as of Monday November 19 due to the failure of the consultants to have arrived by the last weekend. This is wholly unfortunate since there was ongoing update of the Principal of the school who happens to be the General Secretary of the Union. As highlighted above, much in relation to addressing the concerns at the BHS depends on the outcome of the CARIRI report since previous reports have not moved us forward. It is hoped that the reports which may emerge would allay many of the concerns and engender confidence among stakeholders on whom we depend to help in the implementation of recommendations.

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