There were scary moments at Kapolei Elementary School Thursday when a chemical odor sickened dozens of people.
The smell was first detected at around 9 a.m. and led to more than 40 people being treated on campus, and two students and five adults taken to area hospitals.
While emergency crews treated the victims, police scanned the school and the neighborhood to find the source of the odor.
In a letter to parents, school officials blamed the incident on pesticide that was sprayed at a nearby home. The wind helped to spread the smell quickly through the campus.
At first, it was enough to make just a few people sick, “but then it started to come in waves of students and faculty not feeling good,” said Shayne Enright, spokeswoman for the city’s Emergency Services Department. “They were complaining of shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness and scratchy throats.”
As a precaution, students ate lunch in their classrooms and both recesses were canceled, as well as all activities that required students and adults to go outside. Green Track parent teacher conferences were also canceled.
Parents were notified and many picked their children up early.
“If your child complains about a sore throat, headaches and/or nausea, please take them to the ER to get checked out,” the letter advised.
Nichole Fisher, mother to fifth-grader Amaree Holiday, showed KHON2 the letter she received from the school. “This letter says they found (the chemical) and diluted it and took care of it, but the kids are still getting sick,” she said.
Holiday complained of a headache but said he was okay.
Fortunately for school officials and for parents, at the time of the incident, members of the Honolulu Fire Department and Emergency Services Department were already on campus for the Read Aloud program.
“Some of the kids were scared and anxious about it,” said Jenna Altomare, a city paramedic who was invited to read to students, “but we assured them that everything was under control.”
“Like we tell everybody when we are at any kind of event, that we’re in service and have to respond,” said firefighter Chris Hampe. “So our radios went off. We actually told the teachers, ‘Sorry, we have to stop,’ and we were first on the scene.”
State Rep. Sharon Har (D-Kapolei, Makakilo) lives near the school. She was also on campus for the Read Aloud program.
“We really have to see what we can do, whether it’s legislative or an educational program, in telling these homeowners if you are in close proximity and adjacent to one our schools, that some caution needs to be taken,” she said.
After KHON2 first aired this story, another area lawmaker, Sen. Mike Gabbard (D-Kapolei, Makakilo, Kalaeloa, Waipahu), said he will once again push for a measure that says a person who causes physical harm through the negligent application of a pesticide shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 or five years in prison or both.