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Riverside High faces continued water problems following chemical leak

Courtesy photo
Riverside High School, among other area schools, dismissed classes early this week after the odor associated with the crude MCHM leaked in the Elk River Jan. 9 returned while water systems were being flushed.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Wednesday, Riverside High School flushed its water system, due in part to complaints of a lingering odor from the water crisis. The flushing took place during school hours, with no advance warning given to students or their parents.

Most students didn't think the flush was cause for alarm because it was done during school hours. Classes continued as usual.

However, when the hot water began to flow, students began smelling a fragrant licorice odor, the scent associated with the Jan. 9 chemical leak. Students began getting nauseous from the smell, and teachers had to relocate their classes because it was so overpowering.

Teachers in the science wing, where the smell was the worst, raced to safety in vacant rooms in other parts of the building. By the start of third period, the number of open classrooms was very small.

It was 9 a.m. Students were beginning to feel ill and worried about their health.

"I can't smell anything, but I have a headache and my chest feels heavy," sophomore Michaela Moss said as she sat in the toxic science wing.

At 9:45 a.m., all students were sent to the gymnasium. Principal Valery Harper addressed the crowd about what was happening. As she spoke, phones buzzed and lit up with an emergency text alert. It told all who read it that Riverside would close at 10:30 a.m.

"I feel like they should have taken more precautions, to make sure all of the chemicals were out of the water before they sent us back. There were so many people that used the water since we went back," said sophomore Cassidy Johnson.

The situation created confusion for the staff and student body. No one knew how safe they really were.

Parents arrived before 10:30 a.m. to sign their kids out. With every minute that passed, the number of angry parents entering the school skyrocketed.

"I think the school should've had a better understanding of the situation," said sophomore Kaitlyn Murphy. "If they even thought it was a little bit unsafe [there shouldn't have been school]. It's not right to risk the safety of students just for the purpose of trying to get the days in that we needed." The school was also closed Thursday, but students returned Friday. Principal Harper informed the student body that bottled water would continue to be used and all faucets would be kept covered. Plastic gloves were placed over faucets and trash bags over the drinking fountains and automatic sinks in the bathrooms.


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