Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Queens Students Sickened, Probably by Contaminated Water by Sharon Otterman - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com

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Children waited for their parents to pick them out outside P.S. 20 John Bowne Elementary School in Flushing, where dozens of students became ill on Tuesday. Uli Seit for The New York Times

About 80 children at Public School 20, an elementary school in Flushing, Queens, became ill Tuesday afternoon, apparently after drinking from water fountains that were contaminated by an air-conditioning chemical, the Department of Education said.

The children began complaining of stomach aches and nausea at about 1:30 p.m., and the school’s principal, Victoria Hart, called 911, said Marge Feinberg, a Department of Education spokeswoman.

Emergency services took 71 children to area hospitals, asking the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to assist with two city buses, said Frank Dwyer, a Fire Department spokesman.

Though some children were vomiting, Mr. Dwyer described the symptoms as minor and said that emergency officials expected all of the children to be released from the hospital later Tuesday.

The school, on Barclay Avenue, is also called the John Bowne school. It has 1,450 students and a new wing with central air-conditioning that was not working Tuesday morning. The school called a contractor, Bayside Refrigeration, to fix the problem, officials said.

Workers went on the roof around noon, “and it looks like some of the air- conditioner chemicals went into the water supply from the roof,” Ms. Feinberg said. Bayside Refrigeration could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Dr. Glenn Asaeda, an official at the Fire Department’s Office of Medical Affairs, told reporters that emergency workers and hospital personnel were working under the assumption that the children had ingested propylene glycol, a chemical commonly used as a coolant that can be toxic in large concentrations.

The ill children told teachers and medical personnel they had drunk from water fountains at school. While the incident is being investigated, the school’s water has been turned off, and the school will provide bottled water to the children, Ms. Feinberg said.

Officials said the episode was under investigation by the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Health, and the Department of Education.