Students of Valencia Secondary School have been exposed to dangerous chemicals, not prohibited for use in schools by the Ministry of Education, according to members of staff there.
Two teachers, who requested anonymity, told Newsday last week that the chemicals have been at the school since before the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) in 2007, and passed their expiry date several years ago.
"We have magnesium, mercury and lead. We have organic chemicals. (These) things not supposed to be there. I am tired trying to get them out of the school. If you feel acid is bad, organic chemicals are detrimental to your health," one teacher said.
According to the World Health Organisation, mercury – a volatile organic chemical – is one of the top ten chemicals of public health concern, as it has toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.
She told Newsday students are not only using expired chemicals, but are expected to use them in the dark, as the science labs have not had lights for several months.
One teacher, who has worked at the school for almost 20 years, said her personal health has been affected as a result;
“I had three infections, I almost lost my eye…I had respiratory issues and as of recent I suffer from migraines,” which she said have become so severe she had been absent from work for two weeks before speaking to the Newsday.
The teachers expressed their frustration at the culture of silence around the poor health and safety conditions they say staff and students endure.
"Everything is hush-hush. No one cares about the children…they see (them) as the criminals of tomorrow," one told Newsday when asked why nothing had been done to improve the conditions.
They believe many staff disassociate themselves from the students because of the high illiteracy rate and numerous social issues the students face.
When Newsday contacted principal Lawrence Hunt, he gave the number of the Education Ministry's communication department and hung up. Up to press time, Minister of Education Anthony Garcia could not be reached for comment.