Odor Prompts Wash. School Closing

TACOMA, Wash. --


A foul odor sickened dozens of students and staff at a Tacoma elementary school and prompted fire officials to evacuate the school twice.

Multiple firefighters first responded to a report of a possible gas leak at Jennie Reed Elementary School at about 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

Students and staff evacuated the school at 1802 South 36th St. and were kept in the school’s parking lot, some were wearing disposable gas masks, said KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Kevin McCarty.

Seven students were transported to the hospital as a precaution and nearly 20 other people were treated at the scene. Firefighters said no one was seriously injured, but those affected reported nausea and headaches.

Officials then said it was safe for students to return to the building.

During the post-evacuation briefing, a comment from the fire chief prompted the second evacuation.

“The fire chief thought he detected metallic taste in his mouth and when he mentioned several of the rest of us also tasted it,” said Tacoma Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel. “No other symptoms, just a little bit of a dry mouth and a metallic taste.”

The fire chief ordered the second evacuation around 2:15 p.m.

Firefighters have not determined the source of the odor or cause of sickness, but Puget Sound Energy said the odor was not caused by a gas leak.

Jenna Partee, a student at the school, told McCarty the school filled with a foul odor, kids were taken to the gym, then several started feeling dizzy and nauseated. The school was evacuated for the first time shortly after.

McCarty said parents saw and heard fire trucks and ambulances arriving and rushed to pick up their kids.

Gene Hiblar, another student, said he didn't get sick but other students suffered headaches, nausea and a "tingling" feeling in their stomachs. Another student said the smell was like gasoline.

Kim Wilcox, who is a parent of a student who attends the school, said she was frustrated because no one answered when she called the school and there was no recorded message. She said she learned about the evacuation when her daughter sent her a text message.

Voelpel said the school will be closed Friday while investigators determine the cause.


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