SOUTH PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — It’ll be Monday before schools in Wood County reopen in the aftermath of the fire still burning at the IEI Plastics warehouse in South Parkersburg.
Parkersburg South High School Principal Betsy Patterson’s school sits just a few miles from the warehouse site, the former Ames Tool Plant, where firefighters continued to battle flames Thursday.
The school’s athletic complex, the Erickson All-Sports Facility, is even closer to all of the heavy fire smoke.
“It’s a precautionary thing,” Patterson said. “Even though people choose to move out and about in the community, once the students come to school, then they’re our responsibility and we have to air on the side of caution and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Air quality testing was expected to wrap up in all of Wood County’s 27 public schools by Thursday.
On Thursday morning, Patterson said on-site tests throughout Parkersburg South High produced no causes for concern.
“As of now, even though we are in close proximity of where the event occurred, we don’t have any levels of things, according to the environmental health people that are performing the tests, that would be considered dangerous,” she told MetroNews.
Toxicologists with the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health have been monitoring air quality in the Parkersburg area since Monday.
That work has supplemented air quality testing from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
“The good news is, we’ve found decreasing levels of particulate matter in the air since we started,” reported Paul Nony, a toxicologist, on Wednesday.
Later, Nony noted, “This is a short-term event. We’re talking a matter of days here. We wouldn’t expect that any effects that people have seen so far to be representative of any long-term symptoms.”
On Friday, Patterson said intake air filters for the Parkersburg South HVAC system would be replaced followed by any other necessary steps to prep the school for students on Monday.
Similar steps were planned in other schools.
Students in Wood County’s public schools have not been in school since Wednesday, Oct. 18.
Oct. 19, a day off for students to allow for parent-teacher conferences, was followed by an additional day off for students on Oct. 20 for staff continuing education.
This coming Monday, “It’ll be kind of like coming back from Christmas,” said Patterson of the planned return of students in Wood County.
The fire will not affect football for Parkersburg South which is on the road at Wheeling Park on Friday night. Pending the finalization of positive air quality tests, Patterson said Parkersburg High School was planning to move forward with a Friday home game.
Earlier this week, she said, football and soccer practices were moved out of the Erickson All-Sports Facility.
The fire at IEI Plastics was first reported early Saturday morning.
Since then, dozens of firefighters from two states along with outside contractors have worked to put out the flames. Thus far, investigators have not determined the cause of the massive blaze.
On Thursday, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued an order to IEI demanding a detailed inventory of what specific materials, described up to now as plastic recyclables, were stored on the ten acre fire site property.
The DEP is also asking Intercontinental Export Import for a disposal plan for the material at the burning warehouse which is one of several IEI warehouses in the Parkersburg area.