DELIHI -- Students complaining of eye, nose and throat irritation at Delhi High School were medically evaluated and sent home wearing yellow jumpsuits on Thursday, following an incident involving noxious acid fumes at the school.
Fortunately, none of the students received serious injuries, Merced County Fire Department officials said.
Investigators believe the incident happened after thieves broke into a storage room late Wednesday night at the school’s pool, where they took three large bottles of acid, according to Tom MacKenzie, spokesperson for the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.
Paul Wrighton, senior environmental health specialist with the Merced County Division of Environmental Health, said the substance was Muriatic Acid (also known as Hydrochloric Acid) — a common chemical used in pools.
Two of the bottles, which were sealed, were found in the grass at the school Thursday morning. A third bottle, however, was found uncapped in the parking lot, MacKenzie said. One school official reported seeing a cloud in the parking lot of the school around 7 a.m. — and a maintenance worker tried to hose down the bottle, MacKenzie said.
Some of the acid also spilled from the bottle and reacted with an unknown substance on the ground, according to Katie Albertson, Merced County spokesperson. “The spill reacted with something on the ground and it created a vapor cloud. The vapor cloud is what went into the classroom and caused the symptoms with the students,” Albertson said.
Deputies from the Merced County Sheriff’s Department and firefighters arrived at the scene around 10:30 a.m. after 20 summer school students and one teacher reported the symptoms, according to James Allen, an engineer with the Merced County Fire Department.
Officials from the Department of Environmental Health and RIGGS Ambulance also arrived at the scene.
Those who were affected received medical evaluations and were moved into the high school gymnasium, Allen said. The students were issued yellow jumpsuits and told to remove their outer clothes, and place them in a plastic bag as a precaution. They were also asked to wash any exposed skin, Albertson said.
The students were then released to their parents or guardians — many of whom took their children, who ranged in ages 14 to 17, to local hospitals.
Parent Lourdes Sanchez, 43, said she was relieved that her son, 15-year-old Marcuz Flores, was not seriously hurt. “It’s a little on the scary side,” Sanchez said. “But the important thing is that they were taken care of.”
Flores said he was inside the classroom when his eyes began burning. He was also having difficulty breathing and had a headache. “Our classroom is right by the pool,” Flores said. “That air, I guess, got into our classroom, and started affecting everyone in the class.”
Even though Flores said he was feeling better after washing his eyes out, Sanchez said she was still taking him to the hospital “just to make sure everything is OK.”
Mariel Somera, 38, said she would have liked a personal phone call from administrators about the situation. Somera said she was contacted about the incident from her daughter, Melanie Lumauig, 15, who called her on a cell phone.
Lumauig said her eyes were still burning “a little bit” after leaving the gymnasium.
“I’m frustrated,” Somera said. “I had to find out from my daughter.”