Toxic School?

How Cross Creek prepares for a potential nearby chemical release

Toxic School?

Cross Creek’s homecoming ends with hundreds of students suffering from sulfuric acid burns.

Hopefully, this will never happen and be in any headlines. That’s why there is the Cross Creek Site Safety Committee.

Just to give a brief history, years ago the safety of Cross Creek location was questioned by the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) because of the surrounding chemical plants. In the end, the location was approved and Cross Creek was built.

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It’s likely that there will never be a spill because Solvay Specialty Polymers, which manufactures plastic pellets, has a high safety record and conducts many exercises that simulate toxic spills and emergencies, said Mr. Huffman, Cross Creek American Government teacher and chairperson of the school’s site safety committee.

Huffman said Solvay designs its schedule to work around Cross Creek’s school day and activity schedule. The chemical that would pose a major threat to students, sulfur trioxide, is usually off-loaded at Solvay during the middle of the night, Huffman said. That means if there was a spill, it would most likely take place when Cross Creek is vacant.

The Cross Creek site safety committee also meets quarterly with Solvay officials to discuss school safety issues.

Even though Solvay Specialty Polymers has a high safety record and exercises to prevent a spill, what would happen if there was a spill while students were in school or at a game?

Huffman said, the school will go on lockdown and follow the “Shelter in Place drill” procedure to prevent students from coming into contact with sulfuric acid.

When sulfur trioxide, a highly reactive and corrosive compound, is released, it turns into a big white cloud. As a cloud, the sulfur trioxide seeks moisture and when it comes into contact with any type of moisture, including moisture from skin, it becomes sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid burns can be very painful and cause serious damage upon contact, according to WebMD.

         The “Shelter in Place drill” procedure consists of locking down the entire school and taping the edges of the door and any openings where air can seep through. Also, the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system is shut off and vents are covered with plastic sheets. This will prevent the Sulfur Trioxide from getting inside the classrooms.

        Huffman said the length of a school lockdown would depend on weather conditions.

 “It all depends on how hard the wind is blowing,” Huffman said.

Huffman added that if the wind is blowing hard then the sulfur trioxide cloud would pass through quickly. When the cloud passes through, the school will be notified by law enforcement and the school will go off lockdown, according to shelter-in-place procedures.

  Cross Times asked a dozen students about the “Shelter in Place” drill procedures, and none were aware of the procedure. Some even denied ever experiencing a “shelter in place” drill and some were also surprised by the fact that such an event could happen.

Huffman did say Cross Creek has not been doing its drills like it should.  Huffman is working on a video that will inform students on the procedures of “shelter in place” available later on in the year.