By Auxilia Katongomara
A teacher died at Mandwandwe High School in Bulawayo’s Nkulumane suburb after allegedly inhaling poisonous fumes at the science laboratory. The school has been forced to close its science laboratories following the tragedy on Monday.
The Chronicle has established that the Fire Brigade on February 22 recommended the closure of the laboratory, citing harmful gases whose source could not be established.
The school yesterday faced accusations of not following recommended procedures and standards for chemical storage.
Science teacher Trust Ncube died on Monday after complaining of chest pains and reporting breathing difficulties. The following day, the school announced that the science labs were out of bounds, said a source at the school.
Ncube, The Chronicle gathered yesterday, fell sick and asked for some days off, complaining of chest pains but the headmaster, Litmus Moyo, refused to grant him sick leave.
“All the science teachers are sick and several pupils have also shown the same symptoms,” a teacher said yesterday.
Following the Fire Brigade’s recommendations in February, the science teachers were given “sub-standard” safety clothes, the teacher claimed.
The headmaster declined an interview, referring questions to the provincial education director Dan Moyo, who said an investigation has been launched.
“We sent a team of specialists today to investigate and they’re compiling a report. I can’t comment on the teacher’s cause of death because the post-mortem result has not been released,” said Moyo.
Bulawayo chief fire officer Richard Peterson said the school asked the Fire Brigade to come and clean up the lab.
“They phoned us today. This follows their previous engagement with us where we recommended that they close the lab as we could not establish where the gases were leaking from.
“We told them that they should consult experts,” said Peterson.
A bio-chemist who requested anonymity said the school could have been negligent in failing to follow lab procedures.
“There are safety precautions or standards that must be maintained because there are compounds, gases and acids that emit harmful fumes,” he said.
The chemist said chemicals such as sulphuric acid, chlorine, fluorine and bromine which are used at school labs fume on their own and must be kept in a fume hood or bottle.
“People react to these fumes, gradually they fall sick. Some suffer from headaches, nausea, nose bleeds and dizziness depending on the chemical,” he added.
“Most probably there was a spillage in the cupboard and no-one could see it. It could have been a container that wasn’t properly sealed.” The Chronicle