School dust raises health issues

Friday June 22, 2018 Written by Published in Education
Dust is visible on the clothing of these young students pictured inside their new classroom at Apii Nikao. 18062021. Dust is visible on the clothing of these young students pictured inside their new classroom at Apii Nikao. 18062021.

The health of students at Apii Nikao has apparently deteriorated since moving into their newly-constructed classrooms, the parents of some pupils say.

A number of parents have complained about the amount of dust left inside the new building following its opening last month. The parents claim their children are returning home covered in dust and are suffering from the effects of dust inhalation.

One parent claims the health problems are due to poorly sealed concrete inside the classrooms as well as a “negligent attitude” from school administrators, the Chinese construction company which built the school, and the education ministry.

“My daughter came home the other day covered in dust and coughing her lungs out,” says one mother.

According to health experts, inhaling concrete dust can have serious short and long-term effects. Irritation of the skin, eyes, and respiratory system can occur after only a short period of inhaling dust.

The new Apii Nikao was opened by prime minister Henry Puna and the Ambassador for the People’s Republic of China to the Cook Islands, Wu Xi, at the beginning of last month.

The project attracted some strong criticism during its construction, with many locals questioning the quality of work being done by the imported Chinese labourers.

Chinese workers were also responsible for construction of the Cook Islands Police Service headquarters, the Ministry of Justice building and the sports arena. All three are scheduled to be practically rebuilt due to design and construction problems, at a cost of around $10 million.

“The standard of their work (on Apii Nikao) is shoddy to say the least. Uneven fence lines, holes in walls, and unsealed concrete are just some of my concerns,” said another parent, who asked not to be identified.

“Why have they not investigated the quality of the building before moving kids into it?” 

Questioned about the parents’ allegations by CINews and asked whether there had been any unexpected increase in the number of pupils absent because of illness, the education ministry said in a statement: “During this time of transition from the hall to the new building, there have been no withdrawals…student absences are as expected for this time of the year.”

“We continue to be grateful for the ongoing support shown by the Apii Nikao school community, parents and those agencies still supporting the school with the transition.”

Concrete dust can contain silica fibres, which when inhaled, are thought to cause lung disease and cancer.

In a story on New Zealand’s Stuff news website in 2014, University of Canterbury toxicology professor Ian Shaw said that until around 2010, medical experts had not really known the role of concrete dust in causing lung-based cancers.

“But it's becoming more and more important by the second,” he said.

Speaking about the dangers of workers involved in the Christchurch rebuild inhaling the dust, Professor Shaw said the effects of concrete dust were “very similar really to the effects of asbestos”.

However, the problem had been treated with complacency and in New Zealand, had barely been regulated, he added.

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