Cleaned up and ready for students to return on Wednesday

Furnace leak spreads 50 gallons of oil onto Camden-Rockport Middle School floor

Posted:  Tuesday, March 14, 2017 - 3:15pm

CAMDEN — The leaking burner that closed Camden-Rockport Middle School March 13 has been repaired, but not before spreading 50 gallons of heating oil onto the boiler room floor. The leak, which is attributed to a faulty filter, resulted in two days of unanticipated vacation for students in grades 5 through 8. 

The leak was discovered at 6:45 a.m. early Monday morning by maintenance workers at the middle school, who also reported strong fuel odors filling the halls.  The boiler room is at the end of Andrews Wing, tucked beneath the gym.

Students who had arrived at school were sent home on buses by 9 a.m., and those arriving by cars or walking were immediately told to return home.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection was called in, which is mandatory procedure for fuel spills, and DEP staff also tested the air. 

Meanwhile, maintenance crews, including Facilities Director Keith Rose, Tom Williams and others, cleaned up the mess, with the help of Clean Harbor.

Whether the students have to make up the lost two days of school depends on the balance of snow days, but, “all things being equal, yes, we are going to make up the time, because instructional time matters,” said School Administrative District 28 Superintendent Maria Libby, on Tuesday afternoon.

Libby circulated a memo to parents about the oil leak. That complete memo follows:

What happened?

There was a oil leak in the boiler room that was noticed by custodians on Monday morning around 6:45. The custodian immediately turned off the source to stop the leak. We estimate that approximately 50 gallons of fuel oil spilled. Most of it has been cleaned up. We are confident that the leak was triggered by a faulty filter.

What was our response?

Once administration and the Facilities Director were on sight, a determination was made to cancel school due to the potential for exposure to fumes and because the building was no longer getting heat. At that point, busses had arrived and we needed to wait for the elementary run to finish to transport students back home. We also needed to make sure parents got the message and could make adjustments to their schedules. The Camden Fire Department, Department of Environmental Protection, Clean Harbors, our fuel supplier and the companies that service our tanks, boilers, and heating systems were immediately called in.

The DEP has performed air tests for fuel oil chemicals.

Is it all cleaned up?

Nearly. Clean Harbors recovered most of the oil and DEP has been on location today to help with some of the remaining oil on the floor. In a few weeks, they will return to apply a sealant to the floor that will encapsulate any remaining residual oil that has seeped into the floor. They need to wait on that until they are sure any oil that seeped under a slab in there has seeped back out.

What did the air tests show?

DEP uses a field device to detect volatile organic chemicals, found in fuel oil but also found in vapors from gasoline, dry erase markers, and cleaning products. They tested every area of the building. Levels of chemicals were above normal yesterday, particularly in areas around the boiler room, which is located at the end of the Andrews Wing hall under the gym. Levels have dropped significantly today. Current levels in all classrooms and hallways are similar to background levels that you would find in your home or in school on a normal day. We will continue to monitor the situation.

Is it safe for our children?

Yes. Brief exposure, such as passing through a hall or walking by the boiler room that still smells, is not a health concern. Levels are well within the normal range and continued to drop today. That said, the odor may linger as the boiler room is accessed during the next couple of weeks and that odor may affect people differently. People have different reactions in sensitivities to odor. If a student experiences headache or nausea or other symptoms, they should let us know and we will accommodate them.

What are next steps?

The DEP is going to continue to monitor the situation and provide feedback to us. We are going to monitor the boiler room systems more closely in the next couple of weeks. We are implementing two additional safeguards on the equipment: an alarm on one of the tanks and a leak detection device near where the filter leaked.

Is school resuming?

Yes. We will resume school as normal tomorrow, March 15, 2017, except, of course if snow prevents that!