Midwest School in Midwest, Wyo., was evacuated last May when a gas leak was discovered. Two days after the evacuation, air quality tests confirmed the presence of benzene at 200 times safe levels.
Not only were some areas of the school oxygen-deficient, but elevated levels of carbon dioxide were found, as well.
Kelly Weidenbach, director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, said she doesn’t have a way to know what the air quality was like prior to the gas leak. “It likely is fluctuating regularly,” said Weidenbach. “What we do know is that folks in the school were reporting that that they smelled odors as far back as spring break, but we did not become aware of that until the school had already been evacuated.”
Officials at the local health department conducted surveys for the Midwest residents following the evacuation. Many people reported symptoms that could be related to benzene exposure.
The effects of benzene exposure include dizziness, drowsiness, or even unconsciousness depending on the level of exposure. Exposure to benzene is also linked to life-threatening diseases including Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and Aplastic Anemia.
The source of the gas was later identified as an oil well near the school.
The Salt Creek Oil Field, operated by FDL Energy, has been the site of drilling since the late 1800s. It is a 640-acre site that surrounds the school, and contains 120 abandoned wells. FDL Energy found and plugged the well responsible for the gas leak, and is monitoring other wells in the area for any additional potential leaks.