Odor that caused school evacuation still a mystery | PostIndependent.com

Odor that caused school evacuation still a mystery

RIFLE, Colorado – An investigation into a mysterious odor that sent 23 students and staff to the hospital and caused Graham Mesa Elementary School to be evacuated Sept. 1 has so far been inconclusive.

On Friday, Walsh Environmental began an analysis of the building, evaluating mechanical systems and testing the air quality.

“Their final report is expected at the end of [this] week,” Garfield Re-2 School District spokesperson Theresa Hamilton said.

Meanwhile, the school will remain closed until more is known, she said.

There will be no school for Graham Mesa students on Tuesday. Today is already a day off for the Labor Day holiday.

Starting Wednesday, first- and second-grade students from Graham Mesa will have classes at Highland Elementary School in Rifle, while third- and fourth-grade students will be at Wamsley Elementary.

“Staff will report for work at the District Office on Tuesday to prepare for the remainder of the week,” Hamilton said.

“Due to the increased requirements for early childhood classrooms, pre-school and kindergarten classes will not be held until Graham Mesa can be reopened,” she said.

More information about student transportation, parent pick-up and drop off procedures, and other logistics is to be provided to parents on Tuesday, she said.

After an unknown odor sickened students and teachers in a fourth-grade classroom at Graham Mesa shortly before noon on Sept. 1, the Rifle Fire Department immediately evacuated the building.

A total of 22 students and one teacher were taken to area hospitals where they were treated for dizziness and difficulty breathing. All were later released.

School maintenance staff, Rifle Fire investigators and Xcel Energy each tested the school for carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and natural gas. But no elevated levels were found, Hamilton said.

The mechanical engineers who designed the three-year-old school’s mechanical systems also said everything was functioning normally.

Rifle Fire also brought in highly sensitive equipment again on Friday to evaluate the air for compounds, and again nothing was found.

Potential outside sources, including agricultural operations and natural gas drilling activity, were also considered, Hamilton said.

“Rifle Fire did look into it, and there is not a drilling rig in any sort of proximity to Graham Mesa, so that has been ruled out,” she said.

“They also completed interviews with area farmers to determine if there were any spraying operations going on at the time,” Hamilton said. “To date, no spraying operations have been identified in the area of the school.”


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