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Landfill odor sickens students, staff at Cortland Elementary

An adult is seen on a stretcher being placed into a Sycamore Fire Department ambulance outside Cortland Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon.
An adult is seen on a stretcher being placed into a Sycamore Fire Department ambulance outside Cortland Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon.

CORTLAND – More than 30 patients went to Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb after gas released from a Waste Management landfill got caught in Cortland Elementary School's ventilation system, officials said.

Michael Kulisz, chief medical officer for KishHealth System, suggests parents monitor their children for headaches, nausea and vomiting for about 24 hours. Fresh air is the first course of treatment, but parents should use their judgment about whether they need to bring children into the emergency room to be given oxygen.

The nausea students and staff reported feeling Tuesday morning was due to low levels of carbon monoxide, Kulisz said.

Friends and relatives of Cortland Elementary School students and staff can call 815-748-6854 to see if they have been taken to Kishwaukee Hospital.

DeKalb District 428 crews noticed an odor at the elementary school just before 10 a.m., Superintendent James Briscoe said. Waste Management crews replacing pipes at the landfill released methane into the air and the wind carried it to the school, Briscoe said.

By 12:30 p.m., parents were told they could pick up their children, and remaining children were taken to the gym, where the ceilings are higher, until buses could take them home at the normal time.

"Everything that is going on is precautionary based on the EMTs," said Briscoe.

Briscoe plans to discuss the situation with Waste Management officials soon to see if they can avoid replacing these pipes during school hours.

"We're obviously going to have to communicate with the dump if they're ever going to do this again, because we can close out vents on the building," Briscoe said. "Hopefully they don't do this again while we're in session."

Representatives from Waste Management were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Firefighter/paramedics from several departments are on the scene, including Cortland, DeKalb, Sycamore, Genoa-Kingston and Maple Park.

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