Odors nauseate Milford students Fumes from kiln room send six to hospital

MILFORD ?- Nauseating fumes from a faulty pottery kiln at East Shore Middle School sent six students to the hospital Wednesday morning and more than a dozen others complained of sickness.

No one was seriously affected and the hospital trips were strictly precautionary, but the incident sent packs of concerned parents — including the mayor — rushing to the school. Ambulances and fire engines lined Chapel Street outside the school, fueling the fears among the adults.

Superintendent of Schools Gregory Firn said 21 students were evaluated after they reported a feeling of nausea, irritated eyes, headaches or respiratory discomfort.

The affected students were all sixth-graders and the fumes were limited to the art classroom.

Fire Capt. Richard Mohr said the number of children taken to the hospital increased as he and his fellow rescue workers evaluated them.

School officials contacted parents of the students who felt nauseated or dizzy, according to Mayor James Richetelli Jr., whose daughter attends East Shore.

"Naturally as a father it’s a little bit scary," Richetelli said. "You worry a little bit every day when you send your kids to school. Fortunately, I knew the students were in good hands." Fire rescue vehicles, five fire engines, six ambulances and several police cruisers rushed to the school around 10:30 a.m. The school was never evacuated.

Assistant Fire Chief James Wilkinson said it is likely a faulty exhaust system of the electric pottery kiln in the art room was the cause of the odor. He said the department’s hazardous material team responded immediately and tested the school’s air quality.

"They found nothing that indicated the air was toxic," Wilkinson said.

Richetelli said the school’s material safety data sheets listed what types of clay and paint were used in the classroom, which is crucial information for firefighters.

"Our school is safe," Firn said at around 11 a.m. "Students are resuming classes."

All children were released from the hospital by Wednesday afternoon, according to school system Director of Management Services Philip Russell.

Russell said the six students were accompanied to the hospital with their parents and a guidance counselor.

Russell said Principal Patricia Barrett sent a letter home to parents informing them of the situation, and made a broadcast to the students letting them know why all the fire, police, and officials were at the school.

"It could have been overwhelming for the students," Russell said.

He said the art classroom was in use again by 1 p.m. The other classrooms operated normally throughout the day.

Parents arrived at the school displaying varying levels of concern. A school representative waited for the parents in the school parking lot and directed them to their children.

A parent who was allowed into the building to check on his child said the smell was a bit like when a fireplace is not ventilated properly and the fumes enter the room. Other parents expressed concern over the fleet of ambulances stationed at the school and wondered if their children were safe.

Sources said a school nurse announced over the public address system prior to notifying school administrators that any eighth-graders who felt ill should gather in the gymnasium. The nurse then proceeded to call 911, something school officials said may not have been the proper procedure for this type of situation.

"Normally a school administrator would be contacted," said Firn. "Then they would make the call."

He said school officials are determining if the correct procedures were followed.

Mohr said the school nurse did an excellent job handling the situation.