Paint fumes, heat, humidity, and lack of fresh airflow were factors in the bad air that sent 16 students and a teacher in Washougal, Wash., to the hospital, a health investigator reported.
Dr. Karen Steingart of the Southwest Washington Health District reached that conclusion after reviewing hospital records and reports from medics and environmental safety experts who rushed to Canyon Creek Middle School Sept. 27.
A total of 214 students and 14 Canyon Creek employees were sent home after emergency workers responded to a 911 call, Skamania County Undersheriff Ed Powell said. Some fainted, others reported dizziness.
Steingart said it was clear that many students were reacting to the new-building fumes. She recommended that airflow into the school be increased to ensure that no odors or fumes remained, and school officials said that was done.
School officials conducted a walkthrough of the middle school and adjacent Cape Horn Sky Elementary School with hazardous material experts and determined it was safe for students and staff to return.
School Board member Thomas Huffman, who said he worked in construction for the Bonneville Power Administration for many years, defended the decision to open the school a week after construction was completed and said the ventilation system was functioning properly.
“What happened there is very, very common in new construction,” Huffman said. “There is always dust that collects in the ductwork from construction and cleanup. When you get combinations like heat and humidity,” that can affect air quality temporarily, he added.