Officials hope to have pinpointed cause of odor

NAUGATUCK — School officials have been pointing to all sorts of possible causes — busted grease traps and the rubber floor to name two — of a foul odor that has irritated students and teachers at Naugatuck High School over the past two weeks.

The latest explanation given Sunday was this:

A vent pipe that is supposed to carry gases away from the building on the roof was near a large air handler, and the return air was pulling the odor away from the vent stack. Officials from O&G Industries, Inc., which is completing an $81 million renovation of the building, have relocated the vent pipe, also known as a vent stack, 20 feet away from the rooftop unit to resolve the issue.

“That air handler feeds the rooms that we were getting the reports (of odors) from, so we think we’ve got the solution to our problem,” Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said.

Locke, NHS Principal Janice Saam and renovation project manager Joe Vetro of O&G spoke to 25 people during a question-and-answer session about the odor issue in the high school media center Sunday afternoon. They wanted to address questions from members of the public who have expressed concerns after officials closed school on two consecutive Fridays — Nov. 6 and Nov. 13 — and after two teachers went to the hospital with symptoms such as headaches, nausea and heart palpitations after smelling foul odors.

The Naugatuck Fire Department tested for gases, such as methane, after doctors told the two teachers that overexposure to methane may have caused their symptoms. It was never confirmed whether methane caused the symptoms. Interim Fire Chief Ellen Murray said Sunday there were no indications of methane or any other gases discovered during several tests.

Finding the cause of the odor, which officials described as fleeting, has proven a challenge.

On Friday, Nov. 6, officials said they had pinpointed the cause to broken pumps in grease traps, which were fixed that day. The odors, which officials described as similar to rotten eggs and burnt match smells, were reported again on Nov. 10.

The Naugatuck Fire Department and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection identified a disconnected pipe, and gray water backup below rooms in the school’s north wing. They repaired the pipes and sanitized rooms.

There was no school on Nov. 11 for Veterans Day, and reports of odors were again reported on Nov. 12. The fire department and DEEP suggested hiring an industrial hygienist.

Officials brought in an industrial hygienist, moved a vent pipe on the roof and tested pipes. They also opened walls to check and cap pipes, waxed rubber floors because the hygienist suggested the odor could be coming from the floors, increased air flow, replaced air filters and handlers and fixed air vents in bathrooms in the north wing.

On Sunday, air tests conducted to look for gases came back with normal readings.

“However, we did all of our testing when kids and teachers were not in the building,” Locke said. “We didn’t want to bring kids back (today) unless we have a safety net, so we’re going to have industrial hygienists here with meters to check.”

The high school opened Monday. Gas readings will be taken throughout the day and if they are high, the building will be evacuated, Locke said.

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