Mon | Jan 21, 2019

No need to panic! - Chemical expert moves to calm cancer fears at CRH; says specialists need time, resources

Published:Monday | April 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Prof. Ishenkumba Kahwa,

Amid fears that some health workers stationed at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) could have been exposed to serious health hazards, based on a Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) report pointing out that cancer-causing agents have been found in the hospital, renowned chemist Professor Ishenkumba Kahwa has declared it's not time to panic.

The PAHO report detailed that Stachybotrys spp colonies were found inside the operating theatre, adding that it is a very toxic and highly allergic mould.

"Both Stachybotrys and Aspergillus fungi produce potent mycotoxins; some are known carcinogens," the reported noted.

But speaking with The Gleaner yesterday, Kahwa, who is also the deputy principal of the University of the West Indies, Mona, said while it was within expectation for the allergic agents of the mould to affect the eyes and nose with little exposure, it is not quite the case for it causing cancer.

"The mould itself is not harmful. It is the chemical that they produce. Some of those chemicals can lead to cancer - cancer of the liver and so on," he told The Gleaner.

"But, the point is, whereas it has been established that those chemicals can cause cancer, what is clear from the studies we have seen is that you would need to ingest a lot of it in order to get that effect," added the chemist, who has done extensive work in hazardous material, including asbestos.

"In terms of cancer and other very serious ailments, you really need to ingest large amounts of contaminated materials," he said.

Pressed further, Kahwa describe how much is said to be "a large amount".

"For example, if someone would eat a whole lot of peanuts that have been infected or be in intimate contact with animal feed that have been contaminated".

He added: "In my view, I think there is no need to panic. But, there is a need to actually deal with the problem in a systematic and effective way. I think we need to insist that the Government provide the resources necessary to effectively deal with the problem."


... Tearing down hospital won't solve mould problem - Kahwa


Noting that mould is not an easy thing to deal with, chemist Professor Ishenkumba Kahwa says the experts need to be given time rectify the mould problem in sections of the Cornwall Regional Hospital Hospital (CRH).

Quizzed on whether it would be beneficial to demolish the building altogether to get rid of the mould plaguing the facility, Kahwa said there was no guarantee of getting rid of mould if the fundamental issues are not addressed.

"Even if we were to pull down Cornwall Regional Hospital, the report from PAHO said that these same mould species are outside in the soil. If you put up a new building [and] you haven't sorted out the problems we have been talking about for a little while, the mould is going to be in the new building," he argued.

The chemical expert stressed that the issues with regard to the ventilation system must be resolved and there needed to be constant monitoring of the moisture in the building which, he said, is the reason for the growth in mould.