Officials: Chemical reaction likely led to Tahoe school closure |

Officials: Chemical reaction likely led to Tahoe school closure

Kevin MacMillan and Jason Shueh
Sierra Sun
Jason Shueh/Sierra SunSierra Sun Reporter Jason Shueh captured this image at the school, showing a California Highway Patrol office directing traffic as a Tahoe Lake student is led away from the school.

Update: 5 p.m.

TAHOE CITY, Calif. and#8212; A chemical reaction was the probable cause for a cloud of noxious vapors Thursday morning at Tahoe Lake Elementary School that eventually led to the school being shut down prior to students arriving to campus, officials confirmed.

The North Tahoe Fire Protection District received a call at 8:31 a.m. Thursday, said spokesman Dave Zaski, about possible smoke coming from the gymnasium at the school.

Upon arriving at the school, there was no visible smoke, Zaski said, but school officials had already made the call to shut the school down for the day and evacuate staff. The elementary school children were not yet in the building, Zaski said.

After an extended investigation, NTFPD and Southwest Gas Company officials eventually ruled out a fire or any type of gas leak, the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District announced in a Thursday afternoon press release.

The chemicals have been disposed of, and school is on schedule to re-open Friday, officials confirmed.

Out of the staff evacuated, 18 people were assessed on scene by responding paramedics; 17 of them were immediately released, while one employee and#8212; janitor Frank Godoy and#8212; was taken to Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee. Godoy was later released.

Steve Dickinson, assistant superintendent of finances, said Godoy had been mixing cleaning chemicals to scrub the gym floor when the chemicals caused the reaction.

Dickinson said the chemicals and#8212; which the district labeled as a releasing a and#8220;strong odorand#8221; and and#8220;visible fumesand#8221; and#8212; used by Godoy are unknown.

Cleaning supplies such as the solution of bleach and ammonia are known to cause a release of deadly chlorine gas, according to various chemistry-focused websites; however, Dickinson said it is unknown whether these were the chemical agents that created the vapor.

District officials said maintenance practices have been reviewed and the school will be inspected before school Friday and officials anticipate returning to a normal schedule.

Carol Smallman, a food services employee at the school, said when she arrived there at 7:30 a.m., she and other school staff noticed an intense and weird smell.

and#8220;I was going to open up for the kids and I noticed the smell of smoke,and#8221; Smallman said.

Zaski said the school district called parents to inform them the children would be bused to North Tahoe High School, where they waited to be picked up.

The first to arrive on scene was North Tahoe Fire Protection District’s Engine 51, Zaski said, and crews quickly assisted school officials who already were evacuating employees.

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