HRMS water turned off, boiler chemicals enter pipes

The water system at Hood River Middle School has been turned off since Thursday morning after water described as smelly, yellowish, and cloudy emerged from drinking fountains and faucets. It was the result of an installation error that allowed a chemical solution used in the school’s new boiler to enter the potable water system, according to Principal Brent Emmons.

No students have become sick from the incident and as soon as the problem was discovered, staff put up “Out of Order” signs and Naglehout employees shut off the water. “We didn’t have anything reported,” Emmons said.

One parent said his daughter had tasted the water and it was “pretty bad,” and it made two of her friends feel nauseous.

Students reported to the office at around 8 a.m. that the water “looked and tasted funny” coming out of the outdoor fountain in the west courtyard. (Classes start at 8:20 a.m.) Weneha Group, which oversees the capital projects, brought in their own water quality team and has sent samples to a lab. Dale Kuykendall of Weneha said he has asked the sampling to be expedited.

The error affected the historic main building and the Multi-Purpose Room, but not the newer sections of campus. Kirby Naglehout Construction, and subcontractor Devco Construction, were working on the newly-installed boiler, part of extensive capital upgrades to the facility this summer and fall.

“There was a plumbing error and we shut it down and we have engineers coming to look at it (Friday),” Kuykendall said. “It’s the first occurrence I’ve seen like this.”

“The boilers have been running — this was completing some work unrelated to the domestic system, a tweak to the boiler system,” Kuyendall said. “It’s being handled and Kirby Naglehout did a good job in response.”

Kuykendall said he expects the water to be running normally on Monday morning, adding that all water lines have been purged. Emmons said he hopes to learn by Friday when the water is okay to drink.

“We believe it’s safe, but we won’t turn it on until we have the tests back,” Kuykendall said.

According to Emmons, one student asked him, “Could we turn this into a science lab?”

Emmons said, “I don’t know who drank the most, but I’m definitely in the running. I had 16 ounces, but I made coffee with it, and I couldn’t taste it.”

Emmons said that one student who drank from a fountain said he had not noticed it at first, but “after I looked back on it, it tasted a little sweet.”

The district posted the following on its web site: “Last night, during the installation process of the new Hood River Middle School boiler, the heating system water was inadvertently mixed with the domestic water supply in the main (historic) part of the facility last night. The drinking water was immediately shut off and was not functioning prior to the start of morning classes. The system is currently being flushed and tested for contaminants through a third-party laboratory, and will not be turned on until fully cleared by testing authorities. According to the Hood River County Health Department, the two active chemicals, propanediol and sodium nitrite, pose a low health risk at diluted levels. The Health Department has recommended drinking water come from other sources, but that the water can be used for hand washing.

“Drinking water was available from the unaffected buildings today — along with bottled water in the main office for students with special needs — and purified water will be available in the main building tomorrow. We recommend that your child bring a water bottle from home to school tomorrow. If your child has skin sensitivities, hand sanitizer and separate hand washing stations will be available — or students can use the restrooms in the unaffected buildings.

“Though risk levels are quite low, if your child happened to drink water at the school prior to the beginning of school, and they are experiencing skin, eye, or respiratory irritation, please consult your physician and contact the school district at 541-387-5013.”

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