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Students evacuated after illness outbreak

| Saturday, Nov. 17, 2001

More than 30 pupils from Moss Side Middle School in Monroeville were treated at Forbes Regional Hospital and at the Gateway High School campus on Friday for dizziness and complaints of respiratory problems.

Gateway School District officials said the children who became ill most likely had become overheated during a school assembly.

"We had a choral concert and it was very hot. Several (of the pupils) became dizzy from the heat and they went to the nurse's office," district spokeswoman Linda Wright said.

After the initial group became ill, Wright said, several others began complaining of similar symptoms.

The sick children were taken to the nearby hospital, and the remaining pupils were evacuated to nearby Gateway High School by Monroeville police and rescue workers from Monroeville No. 4 Volunteer Fire Company.

Once at the high school, several more children became ill and were treated on the scene by rescue workers.

Forbes Regional spokesman Chad Amond said 33 children were treated for symptoms that included shortness of breath, nausea and breathing anxiety. All the pupils were released.

Matt Magill, a sixth-grader at Moss Side Middle School, said the scene at the school was one of some confusion and a lot of rumor, much of which he believes contributed to the illnesses.

Hearing speculation from other classmates such as a fire, a hostage or some type of contagious illness, Magill said he began to become concerned.

"I was a little worried," he said. "People were going to the hospital, people were getting sick. Some people would say, 'Oh my God, this person went to the hospital in so much pain.' People were making other people panic."

As for Magill, he said he did not feel any dizziness or discomfort.

"I did feel a stomach pain, but I think I was just hungry or something," he said.

Doug Cole, chief of Monroeville No. 4 Volunteer Fire Company, said police and fire crews on the scene cleared the school building and found nothing suspicious that could have caused the illnesses.

Superintendent Richard Domencic said one thing that might have aggravated the problem was a sense of fear and panic.

"Our kids see some of their classmates go to the hospital, and they get a little scared, especially in this day and age," Domencic said. "Then they get evacuated to the high school ... and they see fire trucks, police trucks and ambulances. Some of them started hyperventilating."

Earlier reports suggested that dry ice used during the assembly to create fog might have triggered the respiratory problems, but both Cole and Amond said there was no evidence to support that theory.

Domencic said air tests conducted by the Allegheny County Health Department and a private company turned up negative for any toxins. He said the school should be open Monday.

The middle school pupils were dismissed for the day after the evacuation.

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