Paterson: A High School’s ‘Nuisance Odor’ Declared Health Emergency

City education officials last week conducted emergency air testing in three classrooms at School 21 after a state inspector said an odor from the basement may be connected to “health symptoms” experienced by some occupants.

District officials said a student from one of the classrooms became ill and a teacher was hospitalized. But officials said it was not clear whether the so-called “nuisance odor” caused their health problems. The district did not reveal exactly when the illnesses occurred.

The situation came to light Wednesday night when the Paterson Board of Education approved a resolution saying an emergency had been declared as of Feb. 10, allowing the district to hire a firm to do the air testing and to buy air purification units without going through normal bidding procedures.

Officials said the problem stems from possibly contaminated groundwater beneath the soil in the school’s basement, with odors coming to the surface in the area around a sump pump.

A large exhaust fan that was supposed to be ventilating the area was mistakenly positioned right next to a vent providing air to three classrooms, officials said.

“An odor from the sump pump of the basement of the building has caused teachers in rooms 110, 210 and 310 to experience health symptoms,” said a consultant who inspected the school for the New Jersey Office of Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health, in an email to the principal.

School board members said they had little information about the situation. District spokesman Paul Brubaker said the three classrooms were the only parts of the building affected by the odor. Brubaker said the district had not yet gotten the results from the air tests done on Feb. 9.

“During next week’s winter break, a 24-hour test of the air in these locations will be conducted,” Brubaker said.

The district also is buying three Hydroxyl air purifiers for the three classrooms, at a cost of $4,000 each.

The president of the Paterson teachers’ union, John McEntee Jr., said one of the teachers at the schools got headaches and became faint from the fumes.

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