Authorities yesterday asked scores of employees at the government’s Thompson Boulevard complex to return home yesterday after officials conceded that the chemicals being used to correct the building’s severe mold and mildew problem were potentially harmful.
February 1, 2006--Attempting to calm the nerves of irate employees who had reportedly been told by one senior government official to return to work, Education Minister Alfred Sears assured that officials were trying to assess the situation.
"While that assessment is being made, we have decided to give the health and safety of our colleagues priority because it does not make sense if we are inconclusive and we are trying to ascertain what the situation is that anyone should be exposed to a potentially harmful environment," Minister Sears said.
"And so we have decided to ask you to work at home today."
The minister added that he and his colleague, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Neville Wisdom will meet with inter-ministerial technical teams from the ministries of Health and Public Works to address the problem.
"We will also go outside of The Bahamas to bring in whatever expertise is needed so that we ascertain once and for all what the status of this building is because it is not worth it to maintain a public image if one person’s health is compromised," Minister Sears said.
"Until we ascertain the situation, if we err we are going to err on the side of caution."
Some employees said there were strong fumes in the building yesterday, which reportedly caused one custodian to fall ill.
Shortly after, some workers complained that they were not feeling well after inhaling the agent that was aimed at correcting the mold and mildew problem.
Officials said the process was initially scheduled to take place only on the weekends and after work hours.
But custodian, Cheryl Adderley, said when she arrived at work at 6am Tuesday, the building was still being fumigated.
"I came here nice and healthy this morning, and as soon as I got into that building, I had a sore throat, headache and was feeling bad. That’s how strong those fumes were, and then these people stand around and say that this isn’t dangerous. This is not right. We are only humans," she said. "This is foolishness. We should not and cannot be in here. These people do not care about us."
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Creswell Sturrup said that on Monday evening, the building’s air conditioning vents were cleaned in an attempt to restore the balance of air.
According to Mr. Sturrup, who initially insisted the workers return to work, the purpose was to reduce the amount of condensation in the building and consequently the growth of mold.
"What we want to point out is that the chemicals that are being used are non-toxic and that there are no fumes because the chemicals are indeed odorless," he said.
"We are taking simple corrective measures which include balancing air in the building, extending the air conditioning ducts and several other things. We have no elements here that would indicate that there is any harm to anyone. We have had public health officials looking at this matter and they have indicated that there would be no [spin-off] effects."
But like Minister Sears, Bahamas Public Services Union (BPSU) President John Pinder and Minister Wisdom felt it best that workers return home.
The building also houses the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture.
"All of us have to work here and whatever the problem is, it has to be resolved entirely," Minister Wisdom said.
"We could take the position of depending entirely on local technical assistance or we can get the best technical advice – wherever that may be – to alleviate the problem and protect the interest of everyone.
"And so we will take no chances and leave no stone unturned until the problem is properly rectified. It is unfair – in our opinion – to allow you to be exposed to this type of environment."
This is not the first time workers at the Thompson Boulevard complex have complained about the mold and mildew problem.
In a letter dated December 15, 2003, the BPSU Secretary General, Steven J. Miller – an agriculturist by profession – suggested the mold was Liposcelis divinatorius, more commonly known as barklice or booklice.
Under a microscope the insect would appear yellow/brownish with a soft body and no wings, according to experts.
Mr. Miller said humans can contract upper respiratory maladies as well as esophagus maladies after direct contact with the mold.
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