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4 hospitalized after breathing high school chemistry fumes

Two students and two staff member have been taken to hospitals after a chemistry experiment gone wrong sent fumes into the air and forced a North Hollywood high school to evacuate the campus.

Students were released from their East Valley High gymnasium at 3:22 p.m. Monday at normal dismissal time, according to Los Angeles Unified spokeswoman Monica Carazo. She said the entire student body of 900 was evacuated and four people were taken to hospitals as a precautionary measure.

The students and staff members who were hospitalized had complained of dizziness, headaches and respiratory irritation, according to Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey. The victims included the chemistry teacher, he said, a woman in her 30s.

Fire officials responded to a call about 12:52 p.m. after the teacher apparently mixed two substances incorrectly, authorities said.

Officials said the teacher had performed the experiment in her third-floor chemistry class in the morning and it had gone well. In the afternoon, however, she mixed nitric acid and sugar rather than the intended sulfuric acid and sugar. The misstep caused reddish-brown clouds to form, prompting the evacuation, Carazo said.  

Humphrey and Carazo praised the teacher’s quick action to get the substance into a container and place it under a vent hood. Students first evacuated to the football field, Humphrey said, and then were moved to the gymnasium.        

Carazo said fire officials had cleared the classroom, and school operations are expected to return to normal Tuesday.


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-- Matt Stevens

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