Scores of Kenyan students and teachers have been hospitalised after a dangerous chemical was used during the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) Chemistry examination.
One student suffered serious burns on his face during the practical examination while others were hospitalised after suffering dizziness.
Apollo Otieno was heating the chemical xylene to observe its reaction at a laboratory in St Peter’s Mixed Secondary School in Kajulu, Kisumu, when it exploded and burnt his face, the Daily Nation newspaper reported.
The chemical that exploded had been used as an alternative to cyclohexane after the ministry of education gave those instructions in a circular.
Kenya National Examinations Council acting head Mercy Karogo sent a circular on 1 November, asking principals to purchase xylene as an alternative to the safer cyclohexane. The circular also directed the school heads where to buy the chemical.
“This is to inform you in case of difficulties in obtaining cyclohexane, you are advised to replace it with xylene. This is available at Kobian Kenya Ltd, Chemical and School Supplies or any other chemical distributors,” the circular reads.
A supplier wrote to Ms Karogo days later requesting her to instruct school administrators to store the chemical in glass bottles.
“We have heard that some suppliers are packing it in plastic bottles. Xylene is a solvent and reacts with plastic. We have enough xylene in glass bottles,” the e-mail marked “urgent” says, according to the Daily Nation.
The Standard newspaper reported that a teacher had been hospitalised in Trans Nzoia County after developing complications during the practical.
The Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers told the media that several students and teachers were treated after complaining of dizziness and some collapsed during the practicals.
The government has denied that chemicals used in the examination were poisonous with the Ministry of Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha stating: “most of the substances that we use in Chemistry are dangerous, the substance of xylene that they are talking about is not as dangerous as Chlorine and Bromine.”
When the BBC contacted the ministry for a comment on the burnt student the permanent secretary Belio Kipsang did not respond. He had previously indicated that there had been no formal complaint.