In February 2012, the Environmental Health Department received a request from the BHS principal to investigate what appeared to be a health hazard associated with the science labs. Our Environmental Health Officers responded immediately and carried out a survey and investigations into the labs.
Our Environmental Health Officers registered concerns about un-labeled and obsolete chemicals which could have adverse health effects if unstable or handled improperly. Recommendations were given to the principal of the Basseterre High School. Our Environmental Health Officers also assisted the school at their request with removing books and other materials from the labs to ensure that the students could complete their S.B.A’s.
I want to commend Mr. Alex Riley and the other officers from the Environmental Health Department for their assistance and co-operation in this regard.
In March 2012, the Ministry of Education commissioned Dr. Milton Whittaker, PhD, to conduct an assessment. His report contained findings which corroborated the concerns raised by the Environmental Health Department. Dr. Whittaker made specific recommendations to the Ministry of Education.
Following recent media reports of BHS students being hospitalized because of health issues related to the lab situation, as Minister of Health, I asked the Chief Medical Officer to investigate the matter and provide information to be passed on to the public.
On Tuesday 20th November, the Chief Medical Officer reported that a search of hospital records dating back to February 2012 found no cases of hospitalization associated with the BHS lab matter and no unusual number or increase in the number of persons associated with the Basseterre High School presenting at Accident and Emergency with any issue related to the labs.
CMO further reported that the search continues using cross-referencing methodologies in an attempt to identify cases that may have been missed during the first search.
I give the public our assurance, that if there were or are cases of students, teachers or any other person presenting to the Emergency Room or warded as a result of chemical exposure, the country will be informed.
My Ministry always informs the country whenever there is a serious matter of public health concern. Chemical exposure of a group of persons is a very serious health matter. Doctors and nurses treating persons for chemical exposure are required by law to notify the Chief Medical Officer.
The Chief Medical Officer has received no notification of persons affected by chemical exposure in 2012. The last documented chemical exposure associated with a school lab occurred in the early 1990s when there was an incident at the Cayon High School. Affected students were appropriately treated.
Coincidentally, on Monday of this week a male student from the Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College presented to Accident and Emergency with chemical inhalation at around 1:15 pm. He was observed and discharged at around 3 pm without complication.
I therefore advise the general public that in our respectful opinion there is no need for panic. Further assessments of the environment are being planned. In fact a technical team from Trinidad and Tobago is on the ground at the moment to investigate the matter. I expect the appropriate corrective measures will be taken. They will be guided by science and evidence. And the public will be updated accordingly.