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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Vandals blamed for Waimea school chemical spill

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

WAIMEA, Hawai'i — More than 1,100 students at Waimea Elementary and Intermediate School were sent home yesterday after it was discovered that vandals had spilled dangerous chemicals in a science classroom over the weekend.

Classes were expected to resume today.

Officials said the vandals broke into the intermediate science laboratory and spread sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, copper disulfate and salt peter. "It was pretty random," said fire Capt. George Van Gieson. "I don't think there was any real homework behind it."

Science teacher Sam Halstead, who first discovered the mess, was treated for inhalation of chemical fumes and a police officer was examined after he complained of a sore throat, but neither required hospitalization.

Acting police Capt. Donald Watson said police escorted the children to the nearby Parker Ranch Shopping Center, where they were picked up by their parents. "It was all very orderly," Watson said.

"The kids treated it like a fire drill," said Kalae Kawamura, a teacher and the mother of a third-grader. Most of the students were either sent home by bus or picked up by parents by 10 a.m., she said.

After the spill was reported at 7:36 a.m., the hazardous materials team from Hilo's Ka'umana Fire Station was dispatched and arrived at the school at 9 a.m. Team members neutralized the chemicals and then applied absorbent material. The cleanup was finished around 11:20 a.m.

The remainder of the cleanup is expected to be done today under the supervision of state Department of Education officials from Honolulu.

The amount of damage has not been determined.