Sickening odor again hits school on Kauai
WAIMEA, Kauai » A noxious odor, believed to be from a weed-filled field, has once again sickened a dozen children and teachers at Waimea Canyon Elementary School.
The same mysterious odor is believed to have closed the school for a number of days in November 2006, after dozens of teachers and children reported feeling nauseous and dizzy.
Yesterday, after two teachers and 10 students reported similar symptoms, firefighters from the Waimea station, the Fire Department's Hazmat team and police officers responded to the 9:36 a.m. call, county officials said.
In addition, officials responded from the state Health and Education departments, and Syngenta Seed Co., which leases the field.
"Because of the past incident, everybody was there in a flash," said William Arakaki, Board of Education Kauai Complex superintendent, who also visited the school.
As a precaution, Arakaki said, the students and one of the teachers were asked to go across the street to the Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital. All were treated and released.
School continued as the unidentified odor dissipated by the time officials reached the school, Arakaki added.
"When we were there, we couldn't smell anything," he said.
Still, several piles of weeds found in a field west of the school were removed by Syngenta officials and are believed to be the culprit, said Mary Daubert, county spokeswoman.
The wild spider flower, or honohina ailiohu, was blamed in the 2006 odor event, but anonymous reports continue to surface on the Internet, blaming health problems at the school on pesticide spraying at nearby fields.
Despite any reports of pesticide spraying anywhere near the campus, Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) asked Syngenta to stop all spraying near the school yesterday and returned home to Kauai to talk to the school's principal.
In response to the 2006 incident, Hooser introduced Senate Bill 3170 last week, making it illegal to apply pesticides via backpack within 1,500 feet of a school and aerially within a half-mile of any campus.
"A pesticide is poison. It is designed to kill. No child should be subjected to it, especially in a learning environment," Hooser said in a news release.
Officials at Syngenta did not return a call seeking comment yesterday, but Arakaki said the company and the school have reached an agreement to suspend spraying at the nearby fields during school hours.
No one reported seeing any spraying near the school yesterday, he added.
The state Department of Agriculture took swabs of classroom windowsills in the 2006 incident and found no major sources of pesticides on campus nor any wrongdoing by Syngenta in the application of the weedkiller Touchdown in the field next to the school.
Arakaki added that six of the students and one of the teachers suffered the symptoms outside on the physical education field, on the makai side of the school, well away from Syngenta's field. Other students suffered in different areas of the school, particularly in the middle of campus, he added.
Plus, tradewinds were reported yesterday, which likely would carry the smell away from the school. Kona wind conditions were reported during the 2006 incident.