Truck exhaust suspected in pupil illnesses

September 30, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Exhaust from a garbage truck is the suspected cause of pupils becoming ill Friday at Chase Elementary School, which officials say will reopen for classes today.

Tests conducted during the weekend turned up no air-quality problems at the southeastern Baltimore County school, which was evacuated Friday as 32 children were sent to area hospitals with suspected carbon monoxide exposure.

Environmental engineers stumbled upon an explanation Saturday night, when fumes from a vehicle running outside the school were sucked inside through ventilators. The engineers noticed a strong smell of exhaust in the cafeteria, where pupils in a chorus class had complained of dizziness, nausea and fatigue Friday morning.

On Friday, a garbage truck emptied a refuse container near the ventilators, which were upgraded during the summer as part of a renovation project.

"Unit ventilators near the Dumpsters sucked in the exhaust, and this is what made the children ill," said Charles A. Herndon, spokesman for the Baltimore County school system. "There's no problem with any of our systems in the school."

School officials said the refuse containers will be moved away from the ventilators, and vehicles will be restricted in the area near the cafeteria.

"We're back to normal at Chase Elementary School," Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said. "Our children are fine. Our school is fine and has a clean bill of health."

County firefighters and Maryland Department of the Environment officials took air samples Friday, and the school system hired a private contractor to do more tests Saturday.

"The tests showed no problems at the school, didn't pick up any carbon monoxide problems," Herndon said.

Three of the 32 pupils sent to area hospitals showed slightly elevated levels of carbon monoxide, officials said Friday. All were treated and released by that afternoon.

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