The incidents were reported while RHS and Midland Trail were flushing all the faucets in the buildings in response to complaints about the licorice odor earlier in the week. School officials said it was "unfortunate" the flushing process was not finished by the time students got to school in the morning, and they had planned to have it done overnight.
At about 6 a.m. Thursday, J.E. Robins cook Nicole Carte said she turned the dishwasher on and ran hot water in the cafeteria sinks, like she has been told to do each morning, and the licorice smell was instantly detectable. Carte's eyes began burning and fellow cook Brandy Holstein said she felt nauseated.
School cooks have been given the OK to wash dishes using tap water but, at J.E. Robins, they're serving students using Styrofoam plates and still using bottled water to prepare food, Carte said. Water fountains and sinks were seen bagged and taped at the school Thursday.
"We just want everything to go back to normal, whatever that is," Carte said.
Kanawha County emergency responders and city officials, as well as members of the National Guard, were at J.E. Robins Thursday morning to test the levels of MCHM in the water.
Bryan Burns, a member of the National Guard taking water samples at the affected schools Thursday, said a new protocol will now be in place for schools that requires testing before and after the flushing process.
"Our plan moving forward is if we get a school or whatever facility claims they have the licorice smell, then what we want to do is come in before the establishment flushes, then come back and re-sample after it flushes so that way we've got a baseline from pre-flushing and post-flushing," Burns said. "I'm not a science guy . . . but that's the standard that the governor set and that's the sample we've been testing for the last couple of weeks, and we would not release a school or anything for consumption under 10 ppb."
Grant Gunnoe, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, urged Thursday at J.E. Robins that "it takes such a small amount to be able to smell it."
Ashley Skiles, a parent of a kindergartener at J.E. Robins, who's also a daycare provider at the nearby Kanawha Valley Enrichment Center, was at the school Thursday morning to pick her daughter up, and other students who attend the center's after-school program whose parents couldn't make it.
Skiles, a mother of three, said she's tired of worrying about something she never thought she'd have to.
"You've got to use bottled water for everything, and then they quit with the water distribution sites, and now we have to spend our own money on water that somebody put on earth for us to use and somebody else ruined," she said. "It's really crazy, especially when you've got three kids. You can't give them a bath because you're afraid that something's going to blow up."
Brandi Jones also was picking up her daughter from the school and said that, outside the health issues surrounding the water, she's concerned about the amount of time students have been forced out of school between snow days and the water crisis.
"It's been a while since they've been able to go to school for a full week," she said. "My daughter, she's in first grade and was having a hard time last year. This year, she's doing excellent, and I'm afraid that this is going to hinder her being able to go further."
Skylar Jones, a 9-year-old student walking home after school was dismissed at J.E. Robins, said it's "awesome" to get to miss school again so that he could play video games and that he knows about the chemical leak.
"All my teachers told me was that we're getting out of school because there's like another chemical leak now," he said. "Me and my friends talked about it before. I've been watching the news here and there."
Staff writers Ken Ward Jr. and David Gutman contributed to this report.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.