In Midwest, Wyoming, a school that has been closed since last May for hazardous levels of benzene related to a gas leak won’t reopen until fall of the 2017-2017 school year.
When the gas leak was first discovered, air quality tests confirmed the presence of benzene at 200 times safe levels. The students and staff were evacuated after many complaints of headaches, sore throats and other potential health problems. The air tests also confirmed high levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as well as oxygen deficiencies. Engineers and consultants are working to fix the contamination, which was caused by a leak from a nearby oil well.
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.
More than 150 students from Midwest School will travel by bus to campuses in Casper, 40 miles south of the city, while a mitigation system is built to filter air away from the school. The system will also monitor the air quality, checking for any hazardous gasses.
Benzene is a dangerous chemical that has been linked to serious and life-threatening diseases, specifically Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). Exposure to the chemical, which can happen by inhalation or skin absorption, has also been linked to lymphomas and anemia. People who work in close proximity to benzene are at higher risk of dangerous exposure levels.