x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Is chemical plant fire making our children ill?

Parents of children who attend school near a smouldering chemical fire demanded answers about whether it is safe to send their children back to class.

Parents of pupils at the Greenfield Community School take part in an information session held at the Marriott Courtyard hotel in Dubai Investments Park yesterday.
Parents of pupils at the Greenfield Community School take part in an information session held at the Marriott Courtyard hotel in Dubai Investments Park yesterday.

DUBAI // Angry parents of children who attend a school near a smouldering chemical factory have demanded to know if the facility posed health risks after their children complained of headaches and illness.

A private laboratory will today begin testing the air, soil and water in the Greenfield Community School before it reopens next week.

But parents are saying they will not send their children to school next week unless they were fully assured it was free of poisonous gases. The school has said classes will resume on Sunday after it received the consent of Civil Defence.

"My son's asthma levels were normal a week ago," one parent said at a public meeting yesterday in a hotel inside the Green Community. "But after this fire, the doctor said the asthma is 10 times as bad."

Another parent said: "My son complained of a headache after he came from school."

The school arranged yesterday's information session after Civil Defence had ordered it to shut for a second day this week as a precaution.

The order came after a huge fire broke out last Tuesday at the Reda Industrial Materials in Dubai Investments Park (DIP).

The fire gutted four warehouses about 2.5 kilometres from the school.

Chemicals to make food, detergents and shampoos, paints and pencil coatings had been stored at the plant, as well as yeast for bakeries and large quantities of packaged spices for the meat industry. The company has denied that toxic gases remain from the fire.

But the families gathered yesterday demanded a full disclosure of the chemicals at the warehouses, and said smoke was still rising from the factory.

"We still have no clear information on what happened," one parent said. "We need to know what is burning."

An official from the DIP said a detailed list of the chemicals had been destroyed in the fire.

"We do not have a list," said Omar Al Mesmar, the general manager of DIP. "The environment is safe … we will pass on the full reports of Dubai Police and Civil Defence to the school management."

The school has commissioned Al Hoty-Stanger Laboratories to test the school premises for pollutants.

"We will do a 24-hour test on the air," said Christopher Rajamani, a technical and business development manager at Al Hoty-Stanger. "We will do swab tests on the water and soil for volatile organic compounds. The air tests results will be available immediately."

The other results will take at least a couple of days, Mr Rajamani said.

The lab will also check the carbon dioxide, oxygen, carbon monoxide and ozone levels inside and around the school.

The school's soil, swimming pools and air conditioners will also be checked for pollutants.

"There will be no risk whatsoever to the children," said Brig Ahmad Al Sayegh, the assistant general manager of Dubai Civil Defence. "Our only fear was the smoke and the smoke is over now."

Brig Al Sayegh said his department tested the air at the school yesterday.

He said that once investigations were complete, the municipality's environment department would assist in cleaning up the properties.

The families at yesterday's meeting asked why the five-year-old school was located close to the industrial park.

According to its website, DIP's development began in 1997.

Mr Al Mesmar said several industrial plants were near residential areas, and that was part of "Dubai's master plan".


* With additional reporting by Haneen Dajani