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14 overcome by chemical fumes at Cowell
Joshua Cowell DSC 2062
Manteca District Ambulance medics take a girl on the gurney to their waiting ambulance following the sealant exposure in classroom 19 at Joshua Cowell School. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

Thirteen students and a teacher at Joshua Cowell School were overcome by chemical fumes Wednesday afternoon including five that were transported by ambulance to Doctors Hospital of Manteca.

They were exposed to a sealant chemical that entered their classroom through a heating ceiling duct at about 2 p.m.

The six students transported to Doctors Hospital were treated for respiratory systems issues after inhaling the chemical that caused a degree of light headedness as well as anxiety.

A call to the Poison Control Center calmed fears when a medical doctor told a staff member that the children would have to have a more concentrated exposure to the chemical to suffer serious affects. The worry comes when a child is sniffing the chemical from a paper bag. The fumes in the classroom were only in the air for a short period of time therefore wouldn’t cause any permanent damage.

Later in the day a parent called 911 about a student who had gone home after the exposure and was having a negative reaction at her South Austin Road home.  Fire medics and an ambulance crew responded to the home in the 500 block of South Austin.  It is unknown whether she was transported to a hospital.

A fire department spokesman said a worker had been treating the exterior heating and air ducting on the roof, applying the sealant, some of which apparently got inside the tubing and wafted into the classroom.

The sealant is often used to seal cracks on the outside of the ducting, he said.  Classroom 19 was the only room affected in the entire school. 

Two Manteca District Ambulance crews responded as well as a Ripon Ambulance unit that arrived for mutual aid and to cover any medical calls coming inside the community as the two Manteca ambulances were tied up.  Ripon often responds to Manteca calls in a support role. 

The school put out an “all call” to parents asking them to pick up their children before the final bell dismissing classes.  They were told to enter the far south entrance and all other gates were locked to keep those unassociated with the incident from coming onto the school grounds. Parents whose children were being checked out were allowed to enter the campus through the office.

Only one female student was placed on a gurney and put into an ambulance while others – many with blankets over their shoulders – walked to the two ambulances outside the front of the campus.

School officials said staff members did an excellent job in controlling the students and calming concerned parents who were arriving at the school. 

It was the second school-related evacuation in a week.

Last week an off-site PG&E transformer failure triggered a series of incidents that caused mechanical equipment to send smoke into the office of the McParland School Annex campus on London Avenue.