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Over 70 students treated for difficulty breathing at Va. high school

An extinguisher fell off a hallway wall inside a Suffolk school, releasing its contents as students passed through


City of Suffolk Department of Fire & Rescue/Facebook

By Olivia Lloyd
Lexington Herald-Leader

SUFFOLK, Va. — More than 70 students experienced breathing issues and a dozen went to a hospital after a fire extinguisher went off at a Virginia high school, officials said.

Students were passing through the halls between classes on Dec. 12 when a fire extinguisher was accidentally knocked from the wall, according to a news release from the City of Suffolk’s Department of Fire & Rescue.

The fire extinguisher went off, spraying the hall of Nansemond River High with chemicals.

There was no fire at the school.

First responders were dispatched at around 10 a.m. to the school, where more than 70 students had respiratory issues such as coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath.

Due to the number of students affected, the fire rescue team declared it a mass casualty incident, although no life-threatening injuries were reported.

Those affected were evaluated in the auditorium. One adult and 11 minors with worse symptoms were taken to a hospital, all with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.

A spokesperson for Suffolk Public Schools told McClatchy News that most of the students who went to the hospital had prior health conditions such as asthma.

“We are thankful for our strong partnership with Suffolk Fire and Rescue and the City of Suffolk for assisting in our communication efforts and responding promptly and efficiently to this Situation,” the school district said in a statement. “Again, we take all school safety incidents seriously and want to inform our community of today’s events.”

Fire extinguishers release dry chemical powders to suppress blazes. The chemicals can irritate the respiratory system during high exposure, with headaches or dizziness also reported as symptoms of exposure, according to Poison Control.

Those with preexisting lung conditions are at higher risk of experiencing adverse effects.

All but one of those who went to the hospital were back at school the next day, the school said.

Suffolk is in southeast Virginia along the North Carolina border, about 40 miles west of Virginia Beach.

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