GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Six people from Absegami High School were taken to the hospital after the school was evacuated Thursday morning following the spill of a hazardous material.
Steven B. Ciccariello, superintendent of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, said Thursday night the top of a bottle of ammonia in the chemical storage room near the science labs became dislodged or degraded. It emitted some fumes that mixed with the fumes from hydrochloric acid being used in the classroom and created a strong odor and visible haze, he said.
Many science lab classes were going on at the time and the school decided to evacuate the area around 9:07 a.m., he said.
Jennifer Tornetta, spokeswoman for AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Mainland Campus, said four children and two adults were treated and released from the medical center. Ciccariello said it was only as a precaution and EMTs who checked them out at the scene cleared them.
Ciccariello said about 1,650 students and several hundred faculty members stayed at the school’s football field for about three hours. The superintendent noted everyone behaved well and there were no problems during the wait.
“Five minutes after we received the call, a call was sent out to parents through our global connect telephone system. We then sent another call out to parents when students returned to the school after being evacuated,” Ciccariello said.
Galloway Township Detective Sgt. Donna Higbee said police responded to the scene and blocked off the entrance to the school after it was learned that the substance spilled on the second floor.
The Atlantic County Hazardous Material Team entered the building shortly before 11 a.m., Higbee said.
Just before noon, students and faculty returned to the building once the team gave the OK and emergency personnel vehicles cleared the area, Ciccariello said.
Classes continued uninterrupted through the end of the day on an adjusted schedule Thursday and will resume as normally scheduled today, school officials said.
By the time the Hazardous Material Team entered the building, parents had started to park along South Wrangleboro Road as they waited for updates.
Anthony Sawyer, of Galloway Township, stood on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to Absegami on Thursday morning, pacing nervously and texting his 15-year-old daughter, Lyndsey.
“I got a call from the school about what happened and I came right here. She texted me and told me something spilled in the chemistry lab,” Sawyer said.
“It’s very concerning for something like this to happen, especially with things that have been going on at schools lately,” he said.
Vanita Patel was outside the high school to check on the welfare of her son, a junior. Police wouldn't allow her past a checkpoint.
“I worry about him, so I just wanted to see him,” Patel said as she waited.
Ciccariello said parents may have been calling the school for information during the evacuation, but there was nothing that could be done because there was no one in the building.
“We are not going to leave three secretaries inside the building to answer the phones when it is evacuated for safety reasons,” he said.
He said the evacuation is something that the district practices routinely with students and faculty. He added that the school district worked well with local authorities throughout the situation.
“In my opinion, anytime you have to evacuate a school a parent is going to be concerned. With all the things that have happened lately does that add to it? Absolutely,” he said.
Staff writers Anjalee Khemlani, Lynda Cohen and Joel Landau contributed to this report.
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