Fumes send KHS kids to hospital



It all started innocently enough when a teacher opened a window to get some air into a stuffy third-floor classroom.

But that simple action only opened the door to trouble.

Last Thursday, Oct. 6, several Kearny High School students were reportedly overcome with toxic fumes from a generator positioned on a tractor-trailer truck parked on the ground below at the school’s construction site.

KHS Principal Jacalyn Richardson said she was attending a meeting at district headquarters on Midland Ave. with Superintendent of Schools Patricia Blood when she got a text from Paul Measmo, one of the high school’s assistant principals.

The message, which she received shortly after 1:40 p.m., alerted her to an emergency at the high school. She immediately went to her car and drove back to her school.

There, Richardson told The Observer soon after the incident, she learned that six students – five girls and one boy – among 20 attending a sophomore English class in the middle of the day’s seventh period, had been nauseated by fumes wafting through the open window.

She said the odor was traced to a generator positioned on a flatbed truck below on the ground.

In a subsequent Facebook posting, Richardson said that, “when some students complained about not feeling well, the teacher immediately notified the [main] office, the classroom was evacuated and the generator was turned off.


“Those students affected by these fumes were immediately escorted to the nurse who observed symptoms that warranted further examination. At that point, an ambulance was called, parents were contacted and the fire department was notified.”


Richardson said the fact that students were impacted as they were “is breaking my heart.”


Some parents opted to have their children taken to an area hospital for further evaluation while others said they would take them to their private physicians, she said.


(Neither the Kearny Health Department nor the town building department was alerted to the situation, according to Health Director Ken Pincus and Assistant Construction Official Anthony Chisari.)


Richardson said the classroom “was immediately tested by an independent air quality company, Briggs Associates [of Bordentown], who were already on-site for random air sampling tests. Zero levels of carbon monoxide were found. Additionally, the Kearny Fire Department walked the entire building and found no elevated levels of [CO].”


No other rooms in that section of the building were similarly impacted, possibly because no windows had been opened, she told The Observer last week.

“That room was scheduled to have a class in it tomorrow [Oct. 7],” Richardson said, “but it will be empty tomorrow,” as students and teachers from that section are being transitioned to the outdoor classroom trailer units which have been stationed on the high school’s front lawn, from the start of the construction project.

The Kearny Board of Education delayed the start of the fall term at the high school for about a week to allow the general contractor, the Bennett Company of Kearny, through a sub-contractor, to bring in and install steel beams without posing any safety hazards to the high school’s occupants.

Now that the contractor is proceeding with the next phase of work on the North Building’s east side, the high school is taking steps to relocate students and staff to the trailers as needed. “Carpets and windows have been cleaned and teachers’ equipment have been put in,” the principal said.

“Construction is progressing nicely,” Bruscino said. “The steel is up. We’re down to the flooring, pouring cement for slabs on floor. We’ve been moving out classes – two a night – on the west side of the building to the trailers.”

Bruscino said that on the day of the incident, the contractor had arranged to bring in a generator so that ironworkers would have a power source for welding work.

The third-floor classroom, he added, is situated on the southwest side of the high school’s North Building facing the football field and the generator was positioned about 50 feet below to the left. At this point, he said, the welding job has been completed.

Apparently, Bruscino said, some carbon monoxide fumes emanating from the generator made their way through the open window. Subsequent testing by Briggs personnel – kept on site in case of emergency – showed no traces of CO, he said.

Kearny Fire Chief Steven Dyl told The Observer that firefighters, equipped with CO-detection meters, walked through classrooms and the auto mechanics garage but found nothing alarming.

“I’d call it an accident,” the chief said. “Any motorized machinery like a generator, you’re going to get carbon monoxide fumes. It just has to be directed to the right place. You don’t run it in a confined space.”

Dyl said no outside agency – like the Hudson Regional Health Commission or N.J. Public Employees Occupational Safety & Health – was called in because this incident, in his judgment, was “minor” in scope. “If it were something more serious involving masses of people, then we would notify them,” he said.

In her Facebook posting, Richardson also referenced a legally mandated 20-day notice posted recently advising that non-friable asbestos removal would begin after Oct. 20. She advised anyone seeking more information on that procedure to call plant operations director Mark Bruscino at 201-955-5011.


Still, despite her best efforts to try and reassure parents and the rest of the school community that the high school is safe and secure, some parents remain antsy. Kearny Councilman Michael Landy, who has two children attending KHS, said that while “my kids are loving it there,” because they’re getting a good education, it’s another thing to have to deal with disruptions related to the construction.

“Every parent should be concerned,” Landy said. “To hear that kids are going to the hospital is alarming. … As a principal myself [of Washington Middle School in Harrison], I feel bad for Jacalyn. I know that problems with school facilities can take over everything you’re trying to do.”










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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.