EIGHT MILE, Ala. (WALA) - It’s an issue FOX10 News has been alerting you about for more than a year now a strong chemical odor in some parts of Eight Mile. And now two parents claim the foul smell is making their kids sick at school.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management says the odor is coming from the chemical tert-butyl mercaptan. It's used in natural gas lines to help detect leaks.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control Indian Springs Elementary school is located in what it calls “the red zone” within one mile from where the tert-butyl mercaptan is in the ground water and the odor is rising to the surface.
The report says 98 percent of the people whom the CDC interviewed in the red zone reported smelling the odor and many of them say it is causing health problems.
Last school year, Brenda Winchester said her 8-year-old was sick an awful lot.
She didn't know what the issue was. This year, she started listening closely to what her child was saying.
"During the summertime, I’ve had no trouble at all with her. No visits to the doctor or anything. And then here we are two weeks into school, she's already starting to itch, having the headaches and coming home sick on her stomach,” said Winchester.
Winchester said her daughter was complaining about a strong rotten egg smell at school. That is what many people say the chemical tert-butyl mercaptan smells like.
Winchester began connecting the dots when she saw a FOX10 News story.
"I watch FOX10 all the time, and when y'all showed the map and the school right in the middle of the red zone,” she said.
The CDC said the smell comes and goes is stronger in the morning. The report says 44 percent of the people it interviewed in the red zone reported skin irritation.
Jennifer Clark also has a child at Indian Springs.
"She is complaining of itching and a bad smell at schools. She's got a bad rash from her, all over, head to toe,’ said Clark.
Clark said her 5-year-old didn't have issues until school was back in session. Here’s what both parents want from the school system.
"I want them to let the parents know that they are taking precautions… what precautions they are going to take. Just more awareness of it,” said Clark.
The spokesperson at Mobile County School System Nancy Pierce said last school year there was a gas-like smell every now and then. But she says so far there have been no complaints to school officials about the odor
Pierce also said the principal met with one of the parents recently and there was no mention of the complaint. The spokesperson says if your child is sick, make sure they see a school nurse and the problem is reported
Here is what the CDC recommends, based on its findings.
- Health care practitioners be provided information on:
- Potential health effects of mercaptan exposures;
- Approaches to prevent and manage exacerbations of existing chronic diseases, potentially due to mercaptan exposures (e.g. asthma, hypertension, mental health).
The Mobile County Health Department prepare public health communication messages in advance to include:
- Strategies to minimize exposures:
- Limiting outdoor activity and keep windows closed in the evening and overnight hours (6pm – 8am)
- Advising those with chronic respiratory (e.g. asthma) and cardiovascular (e.g. hypertension) conditions to have their medications readily available.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has linked the chemical to Mobile Gas.
Mobile Gas initially denied its operation had anything to do with leaked mercaptan. It did, however, eventually come forward with this explanation: Lighting struck an underground pipeline in 2008, causing a leak and an unknown amount of mercaptan spilled into the soil.
Mobile Gas has an abatement system set-up at the source in effort to get rid of the smell. However, many residents in Eight Mile continue to complain about the pungent odor and it's possible health effects.
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