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This chemical xylene – Daily Nation

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By SARAH NANJALA
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Controversy surrounding the use of a chemical compound known as xylene in KCSE chemistry practicals has raised concerns over safety of candidates and their supervisors.

The compound, which was used due to shortage of cyclohexane, left dozens of candidates and invigilators ill.

Those affected complained of chest pains, headaches and stomach discomfort.

Others suffered burns after the compound exploded on heating.

But Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha dismissed reports of xylene posing danger to candidates and invigilators even after two teachers were hospitalised.

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“Most of the substances we use in Chemistry are dangerous. The substance of xylene that they are talking about is not as dangerous as chemicals such as chlorine… and these substances have been used since I was in high school,” said Magoha.

So is xylene dangerous to human health? Does it cause cancer as officials of Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) claimed? And does it cause miscarriages?

Here is what you need to know about this compound:

Xylene is a colourless, sweet-smelling liquid or gas that occurs naturally in petroleum, coal and wood tar.

The aromatic hydrocarbon is mostly used in industry and medical technology as a solvent— a liquid that can dissolve other substances.

It occurs in three forms or isomers, which include meta-xylene, ortho-xylene and para-xylene.

Xylene highly flammable, evaporates easily and does not mix well with water.

However, it does mix with alcohol and many other chemicals.

Along with other solvents, xylene is widely used as a cleaning agent, a thinner for paint, as well as in varnishes.

Xylene evaporates quickly, meaning that most xylene that gets into soil or water is released into the air and broken down by sunlight and less harmful chemicals within a couple of days.

However, if xylene make its way down into underground water, it may remain for several months before being broken down.

When its vapour is released into the air, it may cause irritations.

Because of this, the nauseatingly sweet smell of xylene should serve as a warning for its toxic nature.

Xylene

Xylene is a colourless, sweet-smelling liquid or gas that occurs naturally in petroleum, coal and wood tar. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

  • How are humans exposed to xylene?

According to the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, exposure to xylene primarily occurs via inhalation, ingestion, eye or skin contact.

In many cases, xylene is often from industrial sources, automobile exhaust, and during its use as a solvent as was the case in the KCSE chemistry practical paper.

As a result, those working in the paint industry, garages, and metal industries are at most risk for exposure.

Similarly, those who live close to these industries are at an equally high risk.

CONTAMINATED SOIL
You may also be exposed to xylene by using products such as gasoline, paint varnish and rust preventatives.

Studies also show that small amount of xylene can even be found in cigarette smoke.

Xylene exposure can also occur thorough contact with contaminated soil and by drinking contaminated water.

Due to its harmful reactions to the body, it is important that people should take caution when around or when handling xylene, due to its inhalation and irritant risks.

  • What are the health risks of xylene?

According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), the primary risk of xylene exposure includes effects from inhalation or contact with the skin or eyes.

Although xylene is not classified as a carcinogen— having the potential to cause cancer— it is considered a central nervous system depressant, meaning it slows down the central nervous system.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer have found that there is insufficient information to determine whether or not xylene is carcinogenic and consider xylene not classifiable as to its human carcinogenicity.

Breathing in xylene can affect the nervous system, respiratory system, cardiovascular system.

It may cause dizziness, nausea, fainting, headache and even vomiting.

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Visual impairment and difficulty may also result from xylene exposure.

Other drastic symptoms might include tremors, heart arrhythmias and pulmonary oedema.

  • Laboured breathing
  • Impaired pulmonary function
  • Increased heart palpitation
  • Severe chest pain
  • Accumulation of fluid in lungs
  • Respiratory depression or arrest
  • Ventricular arrhythmias

Scientists are not quite sure how xylene results in toxicity in the body, however, studies indicate that it could be because of the high fat-solubility qualities that the compound has.

With this premise, it means that xylene could be soluble with lipids in the membranes of neurons, and as a result, could affect neuronal proteins.

According to the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, xylene also poses risks to skin and eyes and is considered a skin irritant.

The skin absorbs xylene quickly because xylene is so efficient at removing fats, thus, any contact with the skin will have the same effect.

This can lead to drying and cracking of the skin and dermatitis.

• Effects on eyes and ingestion

When in contact with the eyes, studies show that xylene can damage the cornea.

Because of this, it is important to always wear safety goggles when working with xylene.

Any ingestion by mouth should be taken very seriously as well by quickly obtaining medical aid.

According to the CDC, longer exposure to xylene yields an even greater risk as even smelling it can affect major organs.

• Effects on pregnant women

Although there are no conclusive studies in humans, studies show that it is possible that exposure of pregnant women to high levels of xylene may cause harmful effects to the foetus.

  • What are the symptoms of xylene exposure?

Blood and urine tests can determine exposure to xylene.

However, because xylene quickly leaves the body, the CDC advises that these tests must be taken within hours after exposure.

While these tests can indicate exposure to xylene, they cannot be used to predict which health effects may, if at all, develop as a result of the exposure.

Symptoms of xylene exposure include:

  • Eye irritation and impaired vision
  • Headaches, dizziness and fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Incoordination and paralysis
  • Stomach discomfort, nausea and vomiting
  • Impaired short-term memory
  • Anxiety and inability to concentrate
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Skin irritation
  • Coma and even death
  • What should you do if you have been exposed to xylene?

If you believe you may have been exposed to xylene and your health has been effected, you should seek medical attention, preferably from a doctor familiar with chemical exposure.

The US Department of Health and Human Services, also recommends the following:

• Eye exposure: If xylene or a solution containing xylene gets into the eyes, immediately flush the eyes with large amounts of water for a minimum of 15 minutes, lifting the lower and upper lids occasionally. Get medical attention as soon as possible.

• Skin exposure: The contaminated skin should be washed with soap and water for at least 15 minutes. If irritation persists, get medical attention.

• Inhalation: If xylene vapours are inhaled, move the victim at once to fresh air and get medical care as soon as possible. If the victim is not breathing, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation; if breathing is difficult, give oxygen. Keep the victim warm and quiet until medical help arrives.

• Ingestion: If xylene or a solution containing xylene is ingested, give the victim several glasses of water to drink. Get medical help immediately. Keep the victim warm and quiet until medical help arrives. Do not induce vomiting if the person is unconscious as it is associated with the danger of pulmonary aspiration.

• How can you prevent or reduce exposure?

  1. While using xylene as a solvent in paint or gasoline, ensure that the room is properly ventilated. Also store these products in tightly closed containers.
  2. Keep xylene products out of reach of children.
  3. Avoid drinking water from contaminated sources as it might contain xylene. Also, children should avoid playing in contaminated soil or dirt.
  4. If products containing xylene are spilled on the skin, then the excess should be wiped off and the area cleaned with soap and water.
  5. Those working at industries that handle xylene should always wear protective clothing that will prevent exposure to their eyes, skin and mouth.

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Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

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