Students, staff taken to hospitals after natural gas release near two schools

More than a dozen students and staff from two different northwest Houston schools had to be rushed to the hospital after breathing in natural gas. The problem has now been pinpointed. 

So, what caused 16 kids and adults from KIPP Academy and St. Ambrose Catholic School to fall ill this morning? It was CenterPoint Energy's natural gas safety release valve. When the invisible gas began spewing from it, it traveled across the street to KIPP and continued spreading several blocks away over at St. Ambrose, causing quite a scare.

"It just was a really strong smell, as if you were putting gas into your car,” explains 12-year-old St. Ambrose student Olivia Borrego. 

Firefighters and paramedics hurried to St. Ambrose on Mangum and a few blocks over to KIPP Academy on Watonga where students and staff at both schools smelled a strong odor and started getting sick.

“The teachers smelled it and they said it was ok, it was just natural gas and then throughout the day kids started feeling nauseous and headaches,” Borrego adds.

"We were in a class, we got taken out, went to the gym and we were told school was canceled because people were starting to feel sick,” says St. Ambrose 8th grader Evan Borrego. 

Sixteen people had to be rushed to the hospital, including 10 kids and 5 adults from KIPP and one child from St. Ambrose.

"We’re seeing mainly nausea and headaches.  Everybody is completely stable, good vital signs.  We checked Carbon Monoxide levels on all the kids.  They’re all negative, coming back reading as zero,” says Houston Fire Department Assistant Medical Director Dr. Lars Thestrup.

According to CenterPoint Energy the natural gas came from a safety release valve across the street from KIPP.

"That performed as it’s designed and dumped some natural gas off,” explains Houston Fire Department Deputy Chief Mike Sangl.  CenterPoint confirms the valve is working properly and began releasing natural gas after a problem with a pipeline.  I’m told when pressure increases in a gas line the device releases the build up.  Shortly after CenterPoint crews stopped the gas from spewing, "We went into the schools. All the levels are zero,” says Dr. Thestrup.        

The kids at St. Ambrose were sent home early as a result of the gas.  KIPP let out at noon for what we’re told was an already scheduled half day.  The safety valve is one of many across the city.  It only operates when necessary, which according to CenterPoint is very rare.