A West Virginia elementary school sent kids home early on Monday after teachers noticed a chemical smell in the water. Teachers and school officials reported a licorice smell that is linked to the chemical spilled by Freedom Industries last month, placing West Virginia in a state of emergency.
According to WCHS local news, numerous teachers reported headaches and dizziness on Monday after they noticed a strange smell coming from the water. A “rapid response team” was assembled by the state Department of Education to address the chemical smell at four Kanawha Country schools, the WV Gazette reports. Four schools were inspected, although only Grandview Elementary sent students home early.
The licorice odor is associated with crude MCHM, the chemical that contaminated the Elk River in West Virginia. On January 9, the chemical began leaking from a Freedom Industries facility, entering the Kanawha Valley water system.
Schools used hand sanitizer and bottled water as a precaution. Kanawha County Schools Maintenance Director Terry Hollandsworth said that several teachers complained of headaches, although state Department of Education officials said in a press release later on Monday that only two school employees had complained of health symptoms and there were no reports of students complaining of adverse health effects.
The rapid response team, consisting of health department officials, the National Guard, employees of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and local school and emergency personnel, inspected the four schools on Monday. Water samples were taken from Grandview Elementary, John Adams Middle School, Sharon Dawes Elementary, and Alum Creek Elementary.
The schools’ water systems were to be flushed again on Monday. According to the Gazette, “There are still no plans to conduct air tests in addition to water tests, despite complaints about burning eyes, fainting and other symptoms that could be related to inhaling the water’s fumes.”
Earlier this month, complaints of a chemical odor were reported at Riverside High School and Midland Trail Elementary.
The chemical, crude MCHM, is used primarily in the coal preparation process. Twelve days after the spill, Freedom Industries informed the DEP that there was another chemical present in its crude MCHM. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin called the company’s behavior “totally unacceptable” upon learning about the new development.
Last week, Freedom Industries president Gary Southern failed to attend a hearing on the spill. “Freedom Industries’ decision not to testify today compounds its gross misconduct, and is an absolute affront to every person impacted by the spill,” Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said last Monday.
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.