Officials Blame Refrigerant Leak for Odors that Forced Pentucket Regional Schools Evacuation

First responders assemble at Pentucket Regional Middle High School. (Mike Jarvis photograph for WHAV News.)

A refrigerant leak from a rooftop HVAC unit at the new Pentucket Regional Middle High School is being blamed for an odor that forced the evacuation of the middle and high schools Monday morning and resulted in several students being evaluated at a local hospital.

During a press conference outside the school, West Newbury Fire Chief Michael Dwyer said the “strange odor” became noticeable around 9:41 a.m., in a science lab on the left side of the building. No alarms were sounded.

Dwyer and school Superintendent Justin Bartholomew said 39 students were evaluated at the scene. Two were taken by ambulance to an area hospital out of “an abundance of caution,” while two other students were brought to the hospital by their parents. All four students were treated for symptoms including nausea and throat irritation.

No faculty or staff member required medical attention.

A hazardous materials response team completed an initial investigation and determined the source of the odor was a refrigerant leak. The unit was shut off and a licensed contractor is expected to confirm a leak occurred and provide necessary repairs.

The middle school wing has been vented to disperse the odor.

Seventh-grade students in a science lab on the third floor of the middle school first complained about a strange smell. No experiments were in progress and no chemicals were in use. The building evacuation was coordinated by the West Newbury Police school resource officer.

Mutual aid responders included West Newbury Police, Boxford Fire, Georgetown Fire Ambulance, Groveland Police and Fire, Haverhill Fire, Merrimac Police and Fire, Newbury Fire Ambulance, Rowley Fire, West Newbury Fire, East Kingston, N.H., Fire, and Newton, N.H., Fire, as well as Action Ambulance, Atlantic Ambulance, Cataldo Ambulance, and Trinity Ambulance. Salisbury Fire provided station coverage.

A hazardous materials response team from the State Department of Fire Services also responded.

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