Odor In Middle School Leads To Students Vomiting, Hazmat Called In

By Steve Gravelle and Nadia Crow, Reporters

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -There will be no classes at Harding Middle School on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, to allow food service and maintenance staff to clean and sanitize the cafeteria and adjoining music classrooms in the west dome in our building, per recommendations of Linn County Health Department.

Cedar Rapids Haz-Mat crews and the Linn County Health Department were called to the school, 4801 Golf St. NE in Cedar Rapids, around 12:40 p.m. There were reports of several students getting sick and vomiting, although it isn't clear why they were getting sick.

Students didn't feel well while in the cafeteria, which is in an area of the school called "The Domes." School district spokesperson Marcia Hughes says an odor was detected in the area. The school then moved all the students out of the cafeteria dome and the physical education dome and into the central classroom areas, where they were provided with sack lunches.

Seventh grader Dayton Achey said he was waiting to get his lunch when he became ill. He said other sitting at the same cafeteria table were suddenly overcome by the odor, which he said "smelled like helium."

"It just feels like there's an air bubble" in his throat, Achey said. "It feels weird."

Achey said students began running from the cafeteria. He estimated a dozen may have been sick, but school and fire department officials said six students were ill.

Fire Department spokesman Greg Buelow said the incident happened during the second lunch period from 11:05 to 11:35 a.m. A dozen students and two adults at a cafeteria table nearest the kitchen were most affected – that's where the students who vomited were sitting.

"We feel the area of concern was the kitchen," he said.

Buelow said the group reported irritated throats, burning eyes, "and some people felt nausea."

Firefighters weren't able to locate the source of the odor, and monitors didn't detect gas or any other substance, Buelow said. The investigation is continuing.

Only the cafeteria dome is affected by the odor, though both domed areas of the school were closed as a precaution, Hughes said.

The Linn County Health Department was called in to investigate, and during their investigation, the health department suggested that the fire department get called in.

No students have been hospitalized so far.

Achey said he ate a sack lunch in a classroom before his mother came for him. Jennifer Cady said the school seemed nearly normal despite the fire trucks and ambulances outside.

"Everybody seemed pretty calm and taking care of it efficiently," Cady said.
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