Noelani Elementary students released early after chemical odor

Noelani Elementary students were released early Monday after a noxious odor was detected. The first sign of trouble came just before 8 a.m. as school was starting. Several students complained of headaches and nausea.

The odor came from a sewer grate at the back of the school, near the library. Students in those classrooms were moved to a safe area, a drill the school has practiced many times. HAZMAT crews and EMS were called.

“We did alert our parents at eight o’clock in the morning when the first phone call went out,” said Rochelle Mahoe, Noelani Elementary principal.

Only two or three students complained of symptoms, but later in the day, as more students became ill, the principal decided to send the kids home early. In all, 10 students were affected.

“Seems prudent to me, to make sure everybody’s safe,” said parent Andrew Howard.

HAZMAT crews spent the day trying to determine the kind of gas coming from the sewer. “This is unusual in terms of the odor coming out of the sewer system, as well as the makeup of the measurements that we’re getting,” said Capt.Terry Seeling of the Honolulu Fire Department.

Determining what exactly the gas was and where it originated from may be difficult, but Seelig speculates the chemicals causing the odor could have come from a household solvent, like a paint thinner or turpentine, and should not be tossed down the drain.

“Depending on what it is, and there’s a very good description, it sounds like this one probably should have been one of those classes of chemicals that’s taken to the city refuse centers,” Seelig said.

Whatever it was, fifth grader Kamahele Britos says it was pretty powerful. “Earlier in the morning, mice or rats and cockroaches came out of the sewer pipe,” he said. “That’s what I remember and I saw a little bit of it.”

All the parents KHON2 spoke with today said they were proud of the way the school handled the situation.

School will be back in session as usual Tuesday.

To learn how to safely get rid of household solvents, click here.

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