A mysterious odor caused respiratory problems for three Harford County teachers and forced officials to evacuate about 650 students and teachers at Church Creek Elementary School in Belcamp for 90 minutes yesterday, fire authorities said.
"No children were experiencing difficulty when we arrived, but school officials called us, just to be sure everything was safe," said Michael Stanford, assistant chief of the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company.
Air quality tests conducted by fire department personnel and the Emergency Operation Center's Hazardous Materials unit found no trace of any noxious fumes or spilled chemicals, he said.
"We don't know what caused the problem, but it's definitely safe to take the children back inside the building," Larry A. Mabe, deputy chief for EOC told Principal Barbara J. Douglas at 10:35 a.m.
The teachers suffered nausea, itchy and watery eyes and breathing problems. They were given oxygen at the scene and taken to Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, where they were treated and released, Mrs. Douglas said.
The three teachers, second-grade teacher Pat Krysiak, fourth-grade teacher Vanessa Tull and special education teacher Gail Dunlop said they had smelled something like paint thinner when they entered the building about 8:15 a.m., said Heather Polyoka, the school nurse.
She said that after returning to the building, four students said they felt ill, which she said may have been from the excitement, and that their parents were notified. "I also sought out two students who have asthma," she said. "One is fine, and the other sounds a little wheezy."
Donald R. Morrison, a school spokesman, said that, before yesterday, different schools had called for emergency help nine times since September.
The school system cannot make the determination if fumes are harmful or not, he said. "That's HazMat's job," he said.
Mrs. Douglas assembled the students in the gymnasium after the all-clear to explain what had happened and why she had called 911.
"What's the No. 1 priority at Church Creek?" she asked, and the children yelled back, "Safety."