Odor investigation unearthed heat issue

BELINGTON – The heating problem that forced students to be moved from Belington Elementary School this week was discovered as officials were searching for the source of a mysterious odor that caused the school to be evacuated on Jan. 15, Barbour County Superintendent of Schools Joe Super said.

Super also confirmed Friday that some children were treated by EMS workers during the Jan. 15 incident, and that one teacher became ill.

As tests were conducted to search for the cause of the smell, Super said, the investigation of a furnace led to the discovery of a problem. Officials decided the heating unit should be shut down until a replacement part could be ordered, leaving half of the elementary school building unheated, he said.

“It does and it doesn’t (have to do with the original gas smell),” Super said Friday. “We had to investigate the furnace. There was not any problem coming from the furnace, but when we dug into the furnace, we found some cracks in the furnace. We just opted to shut it down.”

On Thursday – the day students returned to Barbour County schools after multiple snow days – the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classes at Belington Elementary were sent to Belington Middle School, which is located behind BES.

Super said the affected students will remain at Belington Middle until the part for the furnace arrives and can be


Although school officials have yet to pinpoint the cause of the smell – which some worried was natural gas – that prompted the evacuation of BES on Jan. 15, administrators are purchasing equipment that will detect any potentially harmful gas levels in the future, Super said.

The school system will obtain both hand-held and wall-mounted carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide detectors, which will be monitored by school officials, he said.

The hand-held devices will be linked directly to the school’s electrical system. The gas detecting devices were requested by parents who met with the Barbour County Board of Education Monday to express their concerns, Super said.

“(Because of) some of the concerns that the parents expressed, we are already in the process of having ordered detectors and parts have already been ordered,” Super said. “We are running every test the parents want ran in that building. So far nothing has come up. Nothing has been found. No levels of anything have been found in the building, but we are monitoring that building. We are ordering detectors. As soon as they arrive, we will put them in and they will be installed.

“We were appreciative of the parents coming,” Super said Friday. “It was a very positive interaction with the families. We’re glad to do it and would be glad to do it again if needed.”

Some parents said their children became sick during the Jan. 15 incident, and the handling of the issue that day prompted concerns and questions in the community.

One mother, Kelli Thomason, said the biggest issue for her was with the communication between the school, parents and the school board.

“Parents as a whole were not happy with the way things were handled,” Thomason said, adding that children were checked by EMS workers during the initial Jan. 15 gas scare, and parents were not informed of it except through social media.

Super confirmed that medical attention was available on Jan. 15 and that some students were treated by the EMS.

Mother Misty Suder said her two daughters became ill during the incident.

“My two girls had to be taken to the emergency room the day that all this happened,” Suder said. “It wasn’t the school that called me; it was a concerned student that begged his mom to call me and tell me about my daughter.

“My oldest daughter’s levels were still very much elevated,” she continued. “The doctor said that she should have been put on oxygen and transported to the emergency room, which the school did not do. From there, my blood was boiling because the school didn’t take care of it properly.”

At Monday’s meeting, Suder said she requested that students be transported to the hospital right away if a similar situation presents itself in the future. She said she was told that steps would be taken to find out what needed to be done to make sure that could happen.

Missy Forsyth of Belington said that her son’s face was swollen for days after the initial gas scare.

Forsyth said that it wasn’t only the students who were affected by the incident.

“A teacher had passed out from the smell,” Forsyth said, adding that the teacher took four to five days to recover after being transported to a local hospital.

Super said he was uncertain if the female teacher who was affected missed any days of school.

“I know there was a teacher that was sick,” Super said. “I don’t believe that they did (miss school). I could be wrong. I’m just not sure if she missed school or not.”

Parents want the school to test for hydrogen sulfide and sewer gases, Suder said.

“It turned out to be a very, very good meeting (Monday),” Suder said. “I was very grateful of the outcome of it. They answered everybody’s questions, and I really feel that they’re headed in the right direction now.

“They agreed to put carbon monoxide detectors and carbon dioxide detectors in and to purchase the device to be able to detect sewer gases,” she added. “They did agree to do a pressurized test to see if they can get sewer gas to present itself to see if that could have been what happened that day.

“They are going to check for mold in the vents to see if that is a possibility of what happened because they have had problems with that in the past, as well.”

Thomason said she was also happy with the meeting, and is satisfied that the school board is taking steps to move forward, run tests and address the problems.

“I think by the end of the meeting, they fulfilled what we were wanting to have done – they will do the tests,” Forsyth said.