A city crew's use of a chemical in sewer pipeline maintenance near a San Diego school sickened 36 students Thursday, school district and fire officials said.
First responders rushed to Zamorano Elementary on Casey Street in the Bay Terraces neighborhood just before 10:30 a.m. for the report of a strange smell and students feeling lightheaded.
One student told NBC 7 she was playing wall ball at recess when she noticed a strange smell.
After hazardous materials experts swept the school, it was determined that a chemical being used to reinforce city sewer pipes prompted the disruption of classes.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Battalion Chief Dan Eddy said one female student felt nauseated and was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation.
"Originally we got a call for everybody that was at recess, and then as it kept going into the incident some other patients said they were feeling sick that weren't on the recess ground," Eddy said.
The total number of students who were evaluated at the school was 36, he said.
SDFD spokesperson Mónica Munoz described the students as under the age of 5th grade.
Hazardous materials team members, ambulances, and fire engines were lined up along Casey Street.
"Our hazardous crews found nothing," Eddy said explaining that the team swept the school grounds.
San Diego Unified School District posted an update to Twitter at approximately 11:40 a.m. confirming the school was deemed safe.
"A nearby city construction site was in the process of pouring resin, which is nontoxic, causing the odor," the Twitter post stated.
San Diego City Public Works Department spokesperson Alec Phillipp said the work was routine maintenance on the sewer mains called pipeline rehabilitation.
Styrenated resin was inserted into the pipe to extend the life of the pipe. He said the chemical fumes do not typically travel as far as it did in this incident.
“The material being used was not hazardous,” Phillip said. “There’s no reason to believe there is an ongoing risk for anybody at this time.
Phillipp said the project on Casey Street will be postponed for now. The project will resume in coordination with the school district, he added.
Resin is often used in construction projects to help strengthen structures.
Epoxy resin systems can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation as well as breathing problems.
Parents waited on the sidewalk, off school grounds, hoping to get information from fire officials on what prompted the emergency response.
SDUSD spokesperson Maureen Magee said the district's priority was to reassure parents the school was safe and that students were safe at the school.
But one parent told NBC 7, he thought the district should have notified parents sooner.
"What they should have done is send a representative quickly. Because there is a lot of hysteria, I understand. I don't think parents need to be," said parent Rolland Allan.
Magee said parents of students who first reported an illness received a personal phone call. After that, the school community was notified through the school messenger program, she said.
“There’ll be another final update later today to give the latest information,” Magee said.
Zamorano is a K-5 Visual Arts Magnet School within the San Diego Unified School District with approximately 1,100 students.