Carbon monoxide poisoning appears to be the reason one teacher was hospitalized and several others fell ill last Thursday in a New Castle school. The Henry County elementary school remains open as several agencies conduct investigations.
For several years, teachers at Sunnyside Elementary have complained of headaches and nausea. A mold problem was tackled three years ago. Now carbon monoxide from the heating system is suspected.
Teacher Cheri Estelle is back in her fifth grade classroom. Last Thursday and Friday, she was in a hospital intensive care unit. Mrs. Estelle became sick at school. I was just real disoriented, heaviness, chest pain. So I sat down in the hall.
There were four teachers that had the same kind of reaction – just not as bad that day. A blood test showed Mrs. Estelle had an elevated level of carbon monoxide in her system.She says her home tested negative for the poisonous gas, but the school has had inconclusive results.
Administrators say the results have ranged from no detection of carbon monoxide by the fire department to a detectable level measured by an independent firm.
We got some preliminary information from them that suggests to us that the building is safe to occupy, said Dr. John Newby, superintendent.
Today, state health department officials began testing the school’s air quality. They say they’re checking the heating system and even trying to determine if carbon monoxide from idling cars and buses is being sucked into the building.
We are prepared now to go into the school if need be, as soon as this weekend, and remove some of the heating units and put new ones in there, said Bo Pheffer, assistant superintendent.
Twenty percent of the students were absent today. The principal suspects parents are scared.I wasn’t aware they are going to do more testing. I’m glad that they are. I hope that everything is okay. If not, I will be coming back to get my children, said Ange Wright, a parent.
Mrs. Estelle says she has not felt well since mold was discovered in her school three years ago. Yet she says she has turned down opportunities for transfer because she’s close to the people she works with. I’m trusting that the school would not have us here if there’s a problem, she said.
State health officials say they hope to have carbon monoxide test results back very soon and they will make them public.