Smoke ‘potentially’ putting health at risk

The controversial chimney at Bexhill High School
The controversial chimney at Bexhill High School

Claims that smoke inside Bexhill High Academy is a “perceived” nuisance factor are “insulting” according to Karen Cooke of union GMB.

Following continued concern over fumes from the school’s biomass boiler, both Prospects Acadamy Trust and building contractor Kier met last Friday to discuss the issue.

Kier reported back that studies had been carried out and the situation being monitored with a view to installing carbon filters.

The selection of a biomass boiler came from a Government’s initiative on carbon reduction and move away from fossil fuels, according to Kier, which said: “Studies have been carried out to ensure that the smoke entering the classrooms presents no hazards to health, and the perceived nuisance factor is being dealt with by reviewing modifications to the fuel and control systems, together with looking at the effectiveness of installing carbon filters. Kier will continue to liaise with Prospects on a satisfactory resolution to this matter.”

Mrs Cooke - whose union represents school support staff - was at a meeting in September 2012 to discuss the biomass boiler following questions already raised.

She said: “A log was issued detailing both issues and actions taken in relation to the boiler. This contained reports from staff of dizziness, aggravated asthma and higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide being found in some staff’s blood following tests. One staff member was found to have pulmonary scarring on one lung. Several staff members have been referred to occupational health, and one has been recently been diagnosed with occupational asthma.

“Some of these reports stretch back more than two years. Regardless of why this particular boiler was chosen, Kier have been historically aware that there are ongoing serious health issues. It’s quite insulting to claim that this is just a ‘perceived nuisance factor.’ It’s more than perceived, it’s real and is potentially putting staff and pupil’s health at risk.”

Meanwhile Interim Principal Andy Mortimer suggested both Propects and Kier acknowledge need for “urgent action”, adding: “As I have said before, we are taking this matter very seriously and seeking urgent action to resolve the issue.

“Kier identified four areas which they are currently investigating - the optimisation of the fuel burning, the boiler running times, the combustion process and the effectiveness of the fuel extract fans.

“The Trust is assessing the moisture content of the wood chip fuel to ensure it is suitable for use in the bio mass boiler and researching whether it would be better to burn wood pellets rather than wood chips. It is also reviewing the effectiveness of the filters in the air handling units adjacent to the bio mass boiler building and has already agreed to install and test a different filter type for the Reprographics and Kitchen areas. There will also be long term air monitoring in the academy.”