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UNUSUAL WEATHER CONDITIONS APPARENTLY LED TO ILLNESSES

It may not equal a Lemony Snicket plot, but it apparently was a series of unfortunate events that caused 26 pupils and four teachers to get sick at North Park Middle School on Dec. 21.

Superintendent Bruce T. Fraser said it appears the pupils and teachers were exposed to low levels of carbon monoxide brought in through the heating and ventilation systems as a result of rather strange weather conditions.

"It was caused by an unusual set of circumstances," Fraser said this week. "It was extremely cold, and the outside air was very still. Normally, carbon monoxide goes up the smokestack and dissipates, but the very cold temperatures and very still air created an almost inversion type condition.

"Instead of dissipating, conditions tended to force the carbon monoxide down and may have built up carbon monoxide levels in the (two) courtyards and areas surrounding the building."

From those courtyards, vents bring fresh air back into the building and supply fresh air to the boilers.

Unfortunately, the superintendent said, the carbon monoxide outside apparently was sucked back into the building. It then apparently blended with fresh air, which is needed to mix with fuel gas to help the boilers heat the school, thus raising the levels of carbon monoxide in the building.

Fraser said the district and the Niagara County Health Department were able to detect the problem and correct the situation. That allowed pupils to return to school for two more days that week without incident, he said.

All 30 individuals were released after treatment at four area hospitals, where blood tests "registered carbon monoxide levels within a normal range and within acceptable (federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards."

As for the boiler, he said the district had it recalibrated to run more efficiently and get a better mix of air and gas.

"I hope it will never happen again," Fraser said.

Susan Grigg, an assistant school superintendent, said it was the first time something like that had happened in city schools during her 20-year career in Lockport.

Fraser said the blood tests show that the pupils and teachers were minimally affected. "I can tell you this," he said. "They were well below the level of a smoker. So the exposure was minimal, but we don't want to have any exposure."

He also said some of those affected were among the first people to come into the school that morning, and some people may have more sensitivity to exposure than others. He said that with "flu going around and other things, kids who already felt lousy from other health issues and had minimal exposure may have had their own situations aggravated when they saw other kids get sick."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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