TUNNELTON, W.Va. (AP) – A northern West Virginia business was burning material illegally in its outdoor furnace and the smoke drifted into a nearby elementary school Friday, sending 37 people to hospitals, authorities said.
Preston County Assistant Superintendent Craig Schmidl said classes were dismissed at Tunnelton-Denver Elementary School.
In a news release, the Preston County emergency services office said it received a call at 10:38 a.m. that a few students in one of the classrooms were having respiratory problems. After rescue units arrived, the number of patients “took a dramatic increase.” They were taken to four area hospitals
Schmidl said many of the students taken to the hospital were in one of two modular units adjacent to the school’s main building. Smoke from the furnace got pulled into the school’s ventilation system.
Schmidl said he didn’t know the name of the business and that authorities were looking into the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning, although the cause remained under investigation.
“In the checks they’re doing for air quality, it seems that might be their concern,” he said.
State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise said an air quality inspector “confirmed that illegal material was being burned in the furnace.” He said the Division of Air Quality will consider penalties against the furnace operator under state rules.
Tunnelton has about 300 residents and is located just west of the Maryland border, about 100 miles south of Pittsburgh.