Report: Wyoming students, teachers fell ill during gas leak

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Dozens of students and teachers at a school in a small Wyoming town fell ill while breathing gases from a leaky oil well last spring, according to a recent Wyoming Department of Health survey.

The K-12 school in Midwest, population 400, has been closed since May 25 after testing showed benzene levels more than 200 times the safe limit. Carbon dioxide inside the building exceeded by five times the recommended occupational health limit, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In the weeks leading up to the closure, more than half of the 84 students and 45 staff who completed the state survey reported headaches and stuffy noses. One-third reported coughing. Around one-quarter reported nose, eye and throat irritation.

The symptoms lessened significantly after the Natrona County School District began busing the students and staff to schools in Casper, according to the report released last week.

"Given the levels of those gases were so high in that building, it can be concluded that the illnesses were mostly due to exposure to those gases," interim State Epidemiologist Clayton Van Houten said Tuesday.

The risk of long-term health effects from the exposure is negligible, he said.

The leaking benzene and carbon dioxide tapered off after Irving, Texas-based petroleum company Fleur de Lis Energy, LLC, re-plugged the problem well in one of the nation's oldest oil fields. FDL bought the Salt Creek Oil Field from Anadarko Petroleum last year.

This year, 148 students and their teachers in Midwest continue to attend school in classroom space 40 miles away in Casper. Plans for a ventilation system under the foundation could enable the Midwest school to reopen next school year, district spokesman Kelly Eastes said.

FDL has been working with the district on the system, Eastes added.

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