School in Plymouth closes

Published 6:36 am Wednesday, October 17, 2007

By Staff
Inspectors seek cause of respiratory distress
By DAN PARSONS, Staff Writer
Pines Elementary School in Plymouth has been shut down indefinitely because of a problem that sent six students to the emergency room Monday.
State officials were called in Tuesday to find the source of an environmental contaminant that first made some students at the school sick last week. That four-person team found “nothing unusual” Tuesday, according to Kathy Waters, spokeswoman for Washington County Schools.
The school was first closed Thursday after a number of students “presented with coughing symptoms” the day before, said Waters. It reopened Monday after inspections by fire-department officials and John Kuchnia, an inspector with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
The week before children became sick, Waters said, an air compressor in the building had broken down. Waters did not know why it had not been immediately repaired. Because the compressor failed, a number of windows were opened that “had not been opened in a long time,” she said.
Kuchnia advised the school system to ventilate the building for at least six hours. After doing that, the air inside the building should have been completely recirculated, he said.
Washington County Schools Superintendent Julius Walker made the decision to close the school, which has about 900 students, Monday afternoon after the six children were taken to Washington County Hospital. They were treated and released, according to Waters.
The school’s students are in the prekindergarten through fourth-grade levels.
Romie Herring, manager of industrial hygiene with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, and three team members were at the school Tuesday to attempt to find the source of the problem, according to Waters.
Today, two of the team members will begin looking through the medical records of affected students and staff members to see if there is a “human element” that could have caused the illnesses, Waters said.
The closure remains in effect until further notice, pending analysis of samples taken Tuesday, Waters said. The school’s students are not attending classes at another location. The instruction time they have missed will be made up, she said.