Poisonous gas at Lagos school, again

THE learning environment in Lagos State is harsh enough, but exposing school pupils to dangerous gas emissions is simply unacceptable. Such carelessness led to 13 pupils of Ogba Junior Grammar School collapsing early this month after inhaling a poisonous gaseous substance from an unidentified source on their school premises. The victims were luckily revived after being treated, while the school was temporarily shut down by the authorities to allow for an investigation.

A security guard at the school said, “The wind blew the gas in the direction of the school and the students who were close began to choke.” How painful. The authorities also closed down a mall sharing a border with the school over the incident for allegedly harbouring one of the facilities suspected to be the source of the dangerous emission.

But about three weeks after the investigation started, the ministries of Environment and Education in the state, which are in charge of the matter, have not been forthcoming on their preliminary findings. The unusual silence on such an important issue that borders on the safety of minors – and even the society at large – questions the capacity of the Lagos State Government to protect its citizens and imbue confidence in the school system.

We deplore the shoddy handling of the situation so far. Human life is important, and considering the fact that these pupils are our future, the state is not treating the issue with the adroitness that it requires. Apart from the initial grandstanding by officials of the Lagos State Safety Commission, the government has not given fresh insights into the gas attack or deemed it fit to give the public updates on its investigation.

What sort of gas caused the incident? And what really was the source? A thorough investigation would unearth these facts. But we are concerned because the leakage could re-occur, and next time, it could come with fatal repercussions. This is not a false alarm. We base our fears on a similar occurrence at the same school about five months ago when a gas leakage incapacitated 22 pupils. After the usual huffing and puffing by four public agencies, the state authorities closed down a photo laboratory at the shopping arcade near the school.

However, the incident occurred again despite the fact that the photo lab in the mall was still under closure. This suggests that the authorities were not thorough in their action. Their haste to find a scapegoat has not stopped another gas leakage. Bearing in mind that we might not be so lucky with another leakage, the ministries concerned have to show a measure of seriousness in dealing with the issue of public safety, whether in schools, offices, market – places or residential areas.

Gas leaks can be very deadly, even in advanced economies, and Lagos State should act in the best interest of the people before the Ogba incident gets out of control. A few days after the incident in Lagos, a massive natural gas blast brought down a highrise building in New York, United States, in which at least two people died and eight others were injured. In 2010, in San Bruno, California, another US state, a ruptured gas leak led to a massive fire outbreak, the death of eight persons and injuries to 40 others.

To prevent a catastrophe, the state government should not have been hasty in reopening the school, but ought to have made alternative arrangements for the pupils until it traced and blocked the source of the emission. It is dangerous for pupils to study in such a captive environment. It is equally alarming that businesses in the area are suffering losses due to indiscriminate closure, and residents in the area now live in perpetual fear of gas leaks.

The state government should enlarge the scope of investigations to cover the entire surrounding areas. In doing this, it might be able to trace the source of the emission. Experts say industrial waste, effluents and fumigants could be the source of poisonous gas, so nothing should be precipitately discounted in the effort to get to the root of the matter.

The parents of the pupils of the school should not stay aloof. They should insist that their children be relocated to other schools so that they will not suffer untimely death or disability. In Turkey, the death of a 14-year old boy, who was in a coma for nine months after being injured by a policeman’s tear gas, led to massive protests throughout that country, demonstrating the attitude of responsible societies to the welfare of youths.

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