SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 8, 2010

Fumes at school force evacuation

Source turns out to be drain cleaner

By Cate Lecuyer

BEVERLY — Administrators evacuated Hannah Elementary School just before 12:30 p.m. after a teacher smelled an unknown odor that turned out to be drain cleaner.

Principal Susan Snyder immediately announced the evacuation, pulled the fire alarm and called the Fire Department.

Students were told to grab their jackets and gathered at four planned locations to the front and side of the school. Everything went smoothly, Snyder said.

"We can use this as a fire drill, right?" she joked with Beverly fire Capt. Jeff Sirois outside the building.

He said Snyder did the right thing by calling the department. Firefighters determined the sulfur-like odor came from the art room.

"We believe one of the janitors was cleaning out a clogged sink," he said. With a "low odor threshold," the smell permeated the room but was not dangerous.

"There should be no health risk at all," he said. Firefighters aired out the building with a fan, and kids returned at about 1:20 p.m., Superintendent Jim Hayes said. The evacuation occurred around lunch time, and kids were full of energy — if not hungry — as they lined up outside.

"We have two grades that still have to eat," Snyder said.

The second- and third-graders went back to the cafeteria, and the rest of the students spent the rest of the day in the gymnasium because there was still a lingering odor in the building, Hayes said.

Staff writer Cate Lecuyer can be reached at clecuyer@salem news.com.