New Jersey

Odor Sickens Students, Staff at New Jersey High School

Students and some faculty members were taken to a South Jersey hospital Wednesday morning after complaining of a strange odor inside their school, according to Gloucester County officials. The school is less than a mile from the Paulsboro refinery, which the school reports is the source of the odor.

More than a dozen students and an undisclosed number of Paulsboro High School faculty members were transported by bus to Inspira Woodbury Hospital after falling ill with headaches at the Paulsboro, New Jersey school, said officials. One mother told NBC10 her daughter passed out. School was dismissed for remaining students and staff.

On Monday, a leak in a large storage tank a couple hundred yards from the school was detected and the leak began emitting fumes, said Community Relations Specialist for PBF Energy Paulsboro Refinery Mark Wilgus.

The refinery immediately took action and began transferring the partially refined oil from the tank. The transfer was nearly finished Wednesday, but high wind gusting toward the school made the odor very detectable, according to Wilgus.

"There was never a spill," Wilgus said.

The refinery processes a variety of medium and to heavy sour crude oils, according to the company website, which also says PBF is "one of the largest independent refiners and suppliers of unbranded transportation fuels, heating oil, petrochemical feedstocks, lubricants and other petroleum products in the United States."

Crude oil contains a series of chemicals including Benzene and Hydrogen sulfide, which if inhaled, even at low levels, can cause irritation to ears, nose and throat. Long-term exposure can cause anemia, impaired attention span or even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Locals, especially those close to the refinery on Billingsport Rd., also noticed a smell.

“There’s been a slight odor in the air, but not enough to really affect any of us here,” said Fort Billings Federal Credit Union President and CEO, John Greskiewicz. “Sometimes it depends on how the wind blows, you know.”

More than 6 million gallons of crude oil leaked from an oil tank at the Paulsboro Refinery in February 2012. People who lived near the refinery reported getting sick from the odor.

“There were scattered reports of people with eye irritation ... or respiratory irritation,” The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Larry Hajna told the day after that leak. He added there were no major health or environmental concerns.

Mayor Hamilton said the high school was being aired out and authorities would return at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday to determine if school would reopen Thursday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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