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Fumes sicken dozens at Tacoma elementary school

By Laila Kearney

(Reuters) - Forty-two students and five staff of an elementary school in Tacoma, Washington were taken to area hospitals on Friday after being sickened by fumes, possibly from a leaf blower being used on the school roof.

The students and staff from Edison Elementary School were treated for dizziness, nausea and headaches related to the fumes, which became noticeable shortly after classes began, Tacoma Fire Department Battalion Chief David McRoberts said.

McRoberts said the symptoms did not appear to be serious and a spokesman for Tacoma Public Schools said all of those affected were ready to be released from the hospital by mid-afternoon.

"We're definitely thankful that all of the injuries and illnesses were minor and not worse," the spokesman, Dan Voelpel, said.

"We don't want to see any of our staff our students harmed while they're at school," he said, adding, "This is a very rare occurrence."

Edison Elementary was evacuated shortly after students and staff complained of a heavy odor inside the building and began showing signs of illness, McRoberts said. The first to be transported to a hospital was a male teacher.

Hazmat and firefighting crews were still investigating the cause on Friday afternoon, but suspected that fumes from gas-powered leaf blower, used on the school's roof during class time, were to blame, he said.

McRoberts said the fumes likely entered the building's air-conditioning system and were circulated throughout the school. Fumes from an active paint project could have also caused or contributed to the incident.

Air-testing equipment could not identify a possible location for the source of the fumes. "They couldn't find any reading in there, nothing out of the ordinary," he said.

Firefighters used fans to circulate air and air quality testing equipment on school ground to ensure that the area was free of fumes before the children returned, McRoberts said.

Students and staff were allowed back in the building to continue schooling in time for lunch, McRoberts said.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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