Foul odor forces Central High School to close early Friday


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ST. CROIX - Officials anticipate that the schedule will be back to normal at Central High School on Monday, after foul odors prompted the decision to close the school and send students home early on Friday.

More than two years after it stopped refining operations, HOVENSA was the source of the stink, according to a statement issued Friday by the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

HOVENSA released a prepared statement late Friday night apologizing for the incident - which stemmed from a tank cleaning operation - and for any discomfort to people downwind of the facility.

The odor itself was caused by crude oil, HOVENSA spokesman Alex Moorhead said in a written response to a Daily News inquiry.

V.I. Education Department spokeswoman Ananta Pancham said the foul odor started Thursday, but it was after classes had been dismissed at the regular time.

When students reported to campus on Friday, the smell had become stronger and some students reported physical symptoms, such as dizziness, watery eyes and nausea, she said.

School officials contacted the V.I. Health Department and DPNR also responded, Pancham said.

Those students who were complaining of not feeling well were sent to the nurse to make sure they were OK, she said. Pancham did not know how many students complained of those symptoms, but it was not the entire student body, she said.

Pancham said that as far as she knew, no students were sent to the hospital.

"They were treated by the nurse, but she told them if they had additional complaints later, to go to the emergency room," she said. "That's always what we do, just in case."

By mid to late morning, all the students had been moved to the gymnasium, where they stayed as the investigation proceeded, until the decision was made to dismiss early, Pancham said.

The buses were summoned and the school van was used to take home students who ordinarily walk, if their parents had not already come get them, according to Pancham.

The school was dismissed by 12:15 p.m. Friday, she said.

The DPNR statement said the agency's Air Quality Program staff conducted an investigation Friday morning and discovered that during the cleaning of a heavy crude tank, vapors were released.

DPNR has ordered HOVENSA to cease and desist all current tank-cleaning operations and to submit an odor contingency plan to the department for approval, as well as to notify the public of the incident.

HOVENSA's prepared statement said that the company had been notified about 11 a.m. Friday by DPNR of an oily odor near the HOVENSA Training School.

HOVENSA's Environmental Department investigated and determined that the smell was coming from a tank that was undergoing cleaning with the tank manways open.

The cleaning of the tank was stopped by 11:30 a.m., according to the release.

"After meeting with DPNR officials, two HOVENSA employees drove to Central High School and did not detect the odor near the school, although on their way to the school they detected an odor on the west side of the road between Estate Clifton Hill and Estate Profit," the company statement said. "On their return to HOVENSA, the HOVENSA employees did not detect the odor until far inside the fence line of the HOVENSA complex, close to the tank being cleaned, and the odor had subsided substantially."

The company issued the apology and the statement said the company will review its tank-cleaning protocol and "determine what changes are required to prevent similar odor issues in the future."

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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