Photo Gallery | Grace Christian students evacuate school

BENNINGTON — The Grace Christian School was evacuated on Wednesday after three people were exposed to a hazardous gas formed in a science lab.

Two students and a faculty member were taken to the hospital for evaluation after inhaling nitrogen dioxide, according to police and school officials.

Administrator Shawn Smith said the gas was the result of a science experiment and credited quick work by the instructor for preventing the situation from getting worse.

"We're just praising the lord it wasn't worse and we're thankful for the first responders," Smith said.


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School and police officials said a science class was conducting an experiment at about 1:30 p.m. when the instructor realized a chemical reaction had produced nitrogen dioxide, a hazardous gas.

"He recognized what happened right away," Smith said. "He was able to neutralize it and got it outside, but in the process he inhaled some of it."

The instructor immediately told the school administration what happened, Smith said. Poison control was contacted, he said, and walked the staff through what to do until first responders arrived. The school notified fire officials and began evacuating the building. About 140 students from the Bennington area, upstate New York and western Massachusetts attend the pre-K through 12 school.

Nitrogen dioxide is a hazardous gas and an air pollutant emitted by internal combustion engines. It's not flammable and is normally stable even under fire exposure conditions, according to the National Fire Protection Association's Standard System for the Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response, but short term exposure "could cause serious, temporary or moderate residual injury." Exposure can cause respiratory distress.

Holly Pelczynski - Bennington Banner Fire and Emergency crews set up a decontamination zone at the Grace Christian School in Bennington on Wednesday.
Holly Pelczynski - Bennington Banner Fire and Emergency crews set up a decontamination zone at the Grace Christian School in Bennington on Wednesday.

According to a press release issued by the Bennington Police Department, unified command was established among that agency, the Bennington Rescue Squad, the Bennington Fire Department, the Bennington Rural Fire Department, the town Fire Marshall and a school administrator. The Arlington Rescue Squad also responded to the scene. The Bennington Fire Department responded with a hazardous materials vehicle and trailer and set up a decontamination area while rescue squad personnel worked with the people exposed to the chemical. Members also ventilated the building.

The students and teacher were treated at the scene before being taken to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center for evaluation.

Smith said all students and faculty were moved to the nearby Langway parking lot during the incident. By the time the scene was cleared at 3 p.m., it was time for student dismissal.

Smith said much of the response was out of an abundance of caution.

"The teacher said it was a very small amount, but it's better safe than sorry," he said.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979