Odor returns, closes NHS again

NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck High School is closed Friday for the second time in a week after at least two teachers went to the hospital complaining of sickness, which they believe is a result of inhaling whatever is causing a mysterious foul odor.

Investigators from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were at the school Thursday and will be there again Friday trying to determine the cause. Meanwhile students, faculty and staff are being told to stay home.

“There is a legitimate health concern,” said English teacher Cheryl Campbell, whose room is in the North Wing, where much of the odor has been smelled.

Education officials said they are consulting with DEEP, the Naugatuck Fire Department and an industrial hygienist to test for gases and determine the cause of the odor. The smell was first discovered on Nov. 5, and school officials closed school on Nov. 6 as a precaution while they searched for the cause.

Officials said there were no high gas readings on the 6th, and thought they had pinpointed the cause to two grease traps that had failed. They replaced the traps and said they believed that would solve the issue. It has not.

On Thursday, officials were at a loss for what the cause may be but said they are working around the clock to locate it.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Chris Montini said the district was working between Thursday night and Friday morning with O&G Industries Inc., the company that has been overseeing an ongoing renovate-to-new project at the school.

He said officials had discovered that a sewer pipe had burst during construction but that it had been fixed before Thursday, when the smells were eminent again.

“The smells are fleeting,” he said. “We will be able to test it out tomorrow and get air quality tests to confirm that the air is not harmful.”

Students and faculty alike have complained about headaches, nausea and heart palpitations since the odor has been smelled. A teacher went to her allergist last week complaining about the issues and that allergist said her symptoms were similar to overexposure to methane gas, teachers said. The teacher was told to go to the emergency room at a hospital for evaluation.

The Wisconsin Health Department, which had several pages of information about methane gas on its website — more so than other states — said it is an odorless, colorless and flammable gas and that “immediately or shortly after exposure to oxygen levels of less than 15 percent (of methane) in air, a person may feel tired, dizzy and have a headache.”

It also stated that “most exposures occur when people inhale methane. Methane can go into homes through sewer traps or foundation cracks. People can be exposed by inhaling the chemical at work, cooking on a gas stove, or entering confined spaces such as manholes, silos, animal waste pits, septic tanks and sewers.”

Campbell, the English teacher, said two teachers went to a hospital and that one other had similar symptoms.

“Bad smells don’t send people to the hospital,” Campbell said.

The teachers are expected to be OK. But the school as a whole is still worried, said teacher George Macary, president of the teachers’ union.

“It’s disconcerting because nobody knows the cause,” he said. “I think Superintendent (Sharon) Locke is doing the right thing and has a legitimate concern.

“It’s very strange; I’ve never seen anything like it in more than 30 years at the school.”