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Cause of mystery illness: a truckload of compost

News from NZ Police
Fresh compost was the source of illness at a Carterton primary school last week.

Emergency services were called to the school on High Street about 2.30pm on Friday with reports of an unpleasant smell and a number of ill children.

“Police spent a great deal of the time over the weekend searching the school, speaking to nearby residents and working with partner agencies to determine exactly what has occurred and when,” Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller says. “We were able to rule out the involvement of a plane and establish that a compost delivery to a nearby property occurred more than an hour earlier than originally thought. This fresh compost was dropped at the property, which backs onto the school playground, between 1 and 1.15pm on Friday. Children playing near the area fell ill about 1.20pm.

“Fresh compost, when hot, can omit a strong sulphur-like smell – this is part of the normal manufacturing process. Medical experts have advised that the children’s symptoms are consistent with inhaling compost fumes and long-term side effects are extremely unlikely. The compost has now been spread in a thin layer so there are no ongoing safety concerns.”

Police are working with the manufacturer to put some safety processes in place.

“I’d like to thank all those involved with both the initial response and the investigation over the last three days. The school, parents and caregivers, and emergency services took this incident very seriously and everything worked to plan,” Inspector Miller says. “I’m pleased we could provide a resolution so quickly to help ensure the safety of our young people.”

\Report from RNZ
The sulphur smell at a Carterton school where 10 pupils fell ill on Friday was from compost at a neighbouring property, police say.

The vapour at the South End School prompted a full scale response from emergency services on Friday. Students at the Wairarapa school described the smell as reminiscent of “a rotting dead pig” or “like Rotorua”.

The school was put in lockdown on Friday afternoon.

Wairarapa area commander Inspector Scott Miller said a truck load of compost was delivered to a neighbouring property on Friday. He said the compost was fresh and hot and that’s what caused the sulphuric smell and made children feel sick.

All 10 students who fell ill and were taken to hospital were discharged. It’s unlikely the children will suffer ongoing effects, but they are being monitored.

South End School held an assembly this morning to debrief pupils and parents. Parents doing the school run this morning said they were nervous about sending their children back to school. One of them, Tracie Lee, said she had accompanied her daughter to school so she could make sure everything was okay. “It’s very frightening especially for all the kiddies coming back today,” she said.

Another parent, Dougal Shelton, was full of praise for the way emergency services handled the situation. “It actually feels pretty good to be honest, because I think things on Friday actually ended up really, really well considering how it could have gone.

“The staff did a fantastic job, so all the kids came out, they were happy as, they didn’t know how serious it was,” he said.

News from NZ Police – 22 September
Police continue to make enquiries to determine how a number of students at a Carterton school became unwell yesterday. Emergency services were called to the school on High Street about 2.30pm with reports of an unpleasant smell and a number of ill children.

Officers today searched the school grounds but were not able to identify the source. The school has been cleared and is open to the public.

Police today also continued going door-to-door making enquiries and checking on residents’ welfare.

Witnesses have described seeing a grey and white or red and white plane, possibly a Cessna, flying near the school between 1.30 and 2.30pm yesterday. While there is no evidence to indicate the plane is the source of the smell, we would like to speak to the pilot. The CAA is also trying to locate the aircraft.

Anyone living close to the school with any further information is urged to get in touch with Masterton Police on (06) 370 0300.

Report from RNZ
Police have been searching the grounds of a Carterton school to discover why 10 children became ill and were taken to hospital yesterday.

Students and staff at South End School had to go through a decontamination unit following reports of an unpleasant smell yesterday afternoon. There was initially a suggestion on social media that a plane may have spread fertiliser nearby.

Carterton Mayor John Booth said all those who had been taken to hospital had now been discharged and swabs taken at the scene were being analysed. The community response was great, with restaurants giving out food to emergency responders, he said.

A debrief will be held on Wednesday at the local fire station.

“As you can imagine quite a few parents want to know what may have affected their children,” Mr Booth said.

A Wairarapa District Health Board spokesperson said there were no further patients who presented themselves to hospital overnight.

Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller said officers searched the school grounds today, but were not able to identify the source. Police were going door-to-door making enquiries and checking on residents’ welfare, he said.

Meanwhile the Civil Aviation Authority was also trying to locate a grey and white or red and white plane, spotted near the school between 1.30 and 2.30pm yesterday.

Anyone with information is being urged to contact Carterton police.

Report from RNZ – September 21
Pupils at South End School in Carterton needed to be decontaminated after a mystery substance was dropped by a plane near the school grounds this afternoon. Ten children were taken to hospital after falling ill at the Wairarapa primary school, says a Wellington Free Ambulance spokesperson.

The school has been in lockdown since 3pm after a plane nearby dropped an unknown substance, causing multiple children to feel ill. There was a small of “ammonia” in the playground.

A post on social media by the school says one student saw a plane, with ‘stuff’ coming out, which teachers have assumed to be fertiliser.

The decontamination process has started, with all 107 pupils and staff leaving the school grounds needing to be washed down before they can leave.

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