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Students, Teachers Report Symptoms In Weeks Before Midwest School Evacuated

Stephanie Joyce
Wyoming Public Radio

A new study from the Wyoming Department of Health suggests gases from a leaky abandoned oil well may have been seeping into the Midwest School for weeks this spring.

The school was evacuated in May, after air quality testing showed high levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds, including benzene. But the new report shows students and teachers reported experiencing symptoms associated with exposure to those gases for weeks before then. 

“But that is a bit of an assumption [to say that gases were definitely entering the school]," said Clay Van Houten, the interim state epidemiologist. "Unfortunately there is no testing data to show one way or the other.”

Van Houten says what the survey does clearly show is a correlation between symptoms and being inside the Midwest School.

“People did have symptoms when they were in that building," Van Houten said. "And when they left the building and went to a different school, the number of people experiencing those symptoms significantly decreased.”

The most frequently reported symptoms were headaches, coughs, irritated throat and eyes and lightheadedness.

A previous study by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded that there was minimal risk of long-term effects from exposure to the gases. 

An air handling system is currently being installed at the school to prevent any future leaks from entering the building. 

The school is expected to reopen by next fall. In the meantime, students are being bussed to Casper. 

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