‘Poor housekeeping’ to blame for health concerns at schools
The public health concerns at multiple government schools on New Providence are due primarily to poor housekeeping, according to Department of Environmental Health Public Analyst Anthony Ryan, who also admitted yesterday that his office has “fallen off”.
His comments followed months of concerns over mold in some public schools.
“You know, there’s a lot of talk about mold in the schools, but we find that a lot of the problems are not just mold,” he said.
“You have problems of dust, dust mites in the schools, rodent droppings.
“There is a condition called roach allergy that people suffer from.
“We find that there are roach droppings in these various schools and the like, and so, we caution folks not to diagnose themselves or to themselves try to figure out what the cause of the problems are.”
Ryan noted that while mold is sometimes a problem, the regular upkeep of the buildings plays a larger role.
“Housekeeping is very poor. Maintenance is very poor. Sometimes ventilation is very poor,” he said.
“Sometimes you have a mold issue, yes, and we are not moving away from that, but what I would like to say is that mold spores exist in every environment. You will never get rid of them.”
He continued, “Just because you see surface mold doesn’t mean that there is a health issue, or if there is no [visible] mold in an area, and you are experiencing certain allergic reaction, it does not mean that there is no mold there either.”
Ryan said the Department of Environmental Health is supposed to regularly and randomly test public and private buildings to determine environmental health quality.
However, he indicated that a lack of sufficient trained inspectors has made it difficult to keep up with the schedule when crises emerge.
“We look at all government buildings, and not only government buildings, now we are involved in private sector buildings as well, and we do random checks now,” he said.
“We go in and we check areas, and I place everybody on notice, especially the cleaning people, that in these random checks, if you’re not doing what we believe should be done, we are going to write you up, and we are going to report you.”
He added, “Nothing is foolproof. Nothing is perfect, and sometimes things fall through the cracks, in that we may have good intentions to check buildings A, B and C, but because building D became priority, we may not get to A, B and C like we should.
“So, those are the kinds of issues that we are now trying to deal with, and we are now trying to find a solution.
“How we are finding a solution is we are getting training programs. We are trying to train more health inspectors to cover a greater area of New Providence and the Family Islands. We are trying to educate our Family Island officers on how to deal with these matters.”
Ryan continued, “Yes, we have fallen off in some areas, and there is always room for improvement, and yes we need to improve, and we will improve.”
He also called for occupants of buildings to report issues at an earlier stage.
“Poor housekeeping, poor maintenance, and, again, these indoor air quality issues [are] the responsibility of the people who occupy the space and the people who own the buildings or manage the buildings,” he said.
He continued, “None of this is reported.
“You’re not reporting these issues, and then when it reaches to a point where you think it is out of control, then you start crying mold.”
However, Ryan commended the response from the Ministry of Education in light of the findings.
“We are looking at environmental issues in all of the schools,” Ryan said.
“We are documenting it, and we are telling these folks, ‘Listen, these are the things that we want you to correct, and we are giving you timelines to make these various corrections.’”
He added, “We’ve gotten pretty good cooperation from the Ministry of Education when it comes to these schools. Once we lay out what we perceive as environmental infractions and the like, their people get on it right away.”
Last month, a reported mold infestation at C.W. Sawyer Primary School led to the temporary closure of the school.
In December, the Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) took a strike vote over the “substandard conditions” at C.H. Reeves Junior High School after teachers raised concerns about mold and water leakages in classrooms, termite and rat infestations and non-functioning bathrooms, among other issues.
Upon returning to the school for the start of a new term in January, however, the teachers opted not to strike.
Earlier this year, parents, teachers and students demonstrated over poor conditions at Black Point All-Age School in Exuma.
Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd indicated that the concerns were being addressed.