May 3, 1999
WOODINVILLE--The source of natural gas fumes that apparently sent five Timbercrest Junior High students to Evergreen Hospital with headaches and nausea April 15 has not been determined.
"By the time we received citizen complaints and investigated, the strong winds that day had already dispersed the gas over a six-mile radius," said Deputy Chief Dominick Marzano of the Woodinville Fire & Life Safety District. "We sent a large response force to the area of several complaint calls. We stopped our trucks at Paradise Lake Rd. and Woodinville-Duvall Rd., where we detected the strongest smell. That is two miles from Timbercrest. This was a much larger problem than just the grade school area. Northwest Pipeline Corporation's natural gas pipeline crosses Woodinville-Duvall at 210th NE. We stopped traffic and didn't go any further, because vehicle engines are potential ignition sources. We didn't want a repeat of two summers ago, when a leak in this pipeline caught fire up by Mt. Vernon."
Marzano said the Fire & Life Safety District's post-incident analysis (PIA) has located no definite source for the gas leak. Puget Sound Energy and Northwest Pipeline have both denied any knowledge of a release of gas on that day, although both companies have pipelines that run through that area.
"Gas utilities regularly vent gas and then shut the vents again," said Marzano. "An abrupt shutdown of a gas line can also cause an automatic venting." Ideally, gas companies would alert them to an unusual venting situation, he said.
Julie Hoss, the mother of one of the children sent to Evergreen, said she was concerned that she hadn't heard any follow-up explanation for the emergency, since it caused a stoppage of school activities. Marzano said the PIA had just been completed (April 23), and he would be contacting Timbercrest officials soon to arrange a presentation of his findings at the school.
Marzano did say that more factors than gas might have contributed to student discomfort. "The 15th was one of those hot days last week, after a long cold period. We don't want to minimize the gas concern, but we also understand that students had already been out on the playfield in the sun for an hour as part of an emergency school evacuation drill, when the gas drifted that way," he said.