9 Liberty students overcome by fumes, hospitalized briefly

Officials suspect purge of gas line to blame

October 11, 2002|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

Nine Liberty High School students were taken to area hospitals yesterday morning after natural gas fumes got into the ventilation system near the school's science department, authorities said.

The students were treated for shortness of breath and breathing problems, "all mild in nature," said Teresa Fletcher, spokeswoman for Carroll County General Hospital, where eight students were taken. One student was taken to Northwest Hospital Center. All were released by 1 p.m., authorities said.

Officials suspect that gas entered the ventilation system after a gas line was purged that morning in the science rooms where Bunsen burners are used, said Gregory Eckles, director of Carroll County high schools.

Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department Chief Bobby Ray Chesney said, "Bunsen burners use natural gas, and you have to flush the lines. And somehow, with the high humidity, the gas came back into the school through the ventilation system."

Firefighters were called to the Eldersburg school shortly before 10:30 a.m., and immediately called for additional ambulances. Five ambulances - from volunteer fire companies in Sykesville, Gamber, Winfield and Reese and West Friendship in Howard County - took the students to the two hospitals.

Ashley Trotman, a 16-year-old junior, said she and other students noticed a burning smell in a classroom near the science department.

"I got a headache and started feeling nauseated, and then I went out in the hallway and it was worse," said Trotman, who was taken to Carroll County General Hospital. "I got to my next class and the teacher sent us outside to get some fresh air, then the ambulances came and took us to the hospital."

Trotman said ambulance personnel gave her oxygen and checked her blood pressure and heart rate.

By the time she got to the hospital she was feeling better and called her father, who had been notified by the school and was on his way to pick her up. Al Trotman said he wasn't worried about his daughter. "As long as she was going to the hospital, I figured she was OK," he said.

The school's doors were opened and firefighters used fans to ventilate the affected area while monitoring air quality. Students sat in a dining room area and auditorium until the science department was reopened about 11:50 a.m., Chesney said.

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