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Residue sends pupils home

Published Oct. 13, 2005

About 100 children went home early from Shady Hills Elementary School on Monday because of eye irritation and headaches caused by residue from fire extinguishers that vandals sprayed during the weekend. School employees and volunteers worked Sunday and Monday to clean up the chemical powder, but the substance proved difficult to remove. Residue remained in most classrooms when children returned Monday, and the cleanup was expected to continue today.

The chemical "isn't toxic, but it can be irritating," said George Renninger, environmental specialist for the school district. He said he went from room to room Monday checking the problem, but noticed only minor irritation to his throat in a couple of the rooms.

About 100 children came to the school's clinic Monday, said Shady Hills principal Ruth Biggs. Many had red, burning eyes, and some complained of headaches, apparently caused by breathing traces of the chemical.

"There was an open invitation to go home," Biggs said.

She said several parents learned of the problem Sunday after school officials began calling to notify them of the problem. Many parents kept their children home Monday.

Rebecca Clouthier kept her two children home.

"I'm not going to send them in there to breathe that," she said.

Vandals broke into the school late Friday or early Saturday and sprayed chemicals from 15 fire extinguishers throughout the school. Renninger said only a few rooms were spared.

The powder is difficult to remove, because when it becomes wet, it gets gummy. Volunteers and school employees have been sweeping and vacuuming the chemical powder, but the problem is further complicated because the school has no windows to aid in ventilation.

Biggs said she thinks the school is safe for class, but cautioned parents of children with upper respiratory conditions to consider keeping their children home today.