Beaconhouse Al Khaleej International School in the Al Azra area of Sharjah
Beaconhouse Al Khaleej International School in the Al Azra area of Sharjah Image Credit: Aghaddir Ali, Senior Reporter

Sharjah: Twenty three people including students and teachers were hospitalised after being exposed to pesticides at a school in Sharjah on Wednesday, police confirmed.

The incident happened at Beaconhouse Al Khaleej International School in the Al Azra area of Sharjah and involved a total of 477 people being evacuated by emergency response teams. The school was closed for the rest of the day and those not in need of medical attention were sent home.

Pesticide had been applied by a pest control company to control mosquitoes according to police, and inhalation of the chemicals had led to several pupils falling ill.

Numbers quoted by local hospitals 

Seventeen pupils aged between six and 10-years-old were moved to Al Qassimi hospital and 15 were later discharged. Two remain under observation there, said Dr Khalid Khalfan Bin Sabt, paediatric surgery consultant and deputy technical director of Al Qassimi hospital.

Meanwhile a further six cases have been sent to Kuwait Hospital, including five teachers and one 13-year-old pupil, according to Dr Eisa Al Moa’almi, head of the emergency department at Kuwait Hospital. All of them received treatment and were later discharged.

Major General Saif Ziri Al Shamsi, Commander-in-chief of Sharjah Police, told Gulf News that an investigation was underway and the director of the pest control company had been summoned for questioning.

The case will be referred to public prosecution once officers from Wasit police station complete their investigation.

Reports pending

A Sharjah Municipality official said they were waiting for a report from police and hospitals before deciding on their course of action.

An official at Sharjah Civil Defence told Gulf News that they were called to the school at 8.20am and rescue teams from Samnan and Sharjah Civil Defence headquarters immediately evacuated 477 pupils.

An official at the National Ambulance service told Gulf News that 11 ambulances were rushed to the scene along with one quick response car and two medical incident command vehicles.

A statement sent by Sharjah Media Office said, “Sharjah Police General Command is investigating an accident that caused some students minor injuries in a private school as a result of inhaling pesticides that were sprayed in their school last [Tuesday] night. The effects of inhalation were dealt with by immediate treatment and the transferal of some to hospital.”

The statement added that Sharjah Private Education Authority affirmed its concern for the safety of students and had strict controls in place related to all matters in schools.

Meanwhile, a source at the school told Gulf News that the pesticide company was approved by the municipality, and was tasked with regular pest control measures on the premises.

The company used to come to the school every Thursday ahead of the weekend but on this occasion they came on Tuesday night at 5pm.

The school source said that students panicked in the morning and so teachers gathered them in Al Azra Park and called parents to come and collect them. It was added that the school would re-opened on Sunday.

School statement

A statement from Dr Terry Burwell, Principal at Beaconhouse Al Khaleej International School, read, “As you are aware, on the morning of 29 January, all students and staff at our school were safely evacuated as an outcome of unplanned and uncommunicated fumigation from the night before. Some students and teachers were sent to the hospital mainly as a precautionary measure. All were released shortly thereafter and are in good health and spirits, by the grace of God.

“The school appreciates the professionalism and support provided by the Sharjah Civil Defence Authority, Sharjah Police, Sharjah Private Eduation Authority and of course our own staff.

“We are conducting an internal investigation into this matter and will provide a transparent explanation as soon as the investigation is complete. In the meanwhile, we expect that everyone will refrain from spreading rumours and conspiracy theories about the cause of the evacuation. We remain fully committed to supporting all members of the school community and urge them (and also any other stakeholder) to directly contact myself or any member of the school leadership team with any concerns or queries.

“We expect the school to reopen on Sunday once any remaining fumes have fully dissipated, subject to clearance from the relevant authorities. We will keep you informed in this regard.”

Expert opinion

Dinesh Ramachandran, technical safety, health and environment manager at Rentokil Pest Control UAE – who were not the company involved in this case – said, “Pest control in schools should be done over the weekend not on weekdays because you need to allow 24 hours before re-entering the premises. “All chemicals are toxic, but if a trained technician from a municipality-approved company uses the chemical as per instruction, particularly with regards to concentration levels and re-entry periods, then no incidents can happen.

“It is the responsibility of both the company and the school to ensure that children aren’t exposed to chemicals. Definitely more severe steps should have been taken by both,” he added.

Ramachandran said that depending on the dosage of chemical, symptoms of poisoning range from skin and eye irritation to sweating, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, abdominal cramps and breathing difficulties. In the most extreme cases this can result in death.