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40 students, 24 staff sickened after mysterious odor spreads through Wisconsin middle school

The strong smell at the school caused illness and "physical discomfort."

Wisconsin school officials still don't know what the mysterious odor that has sickened dozens of students and staff actually is, or where it's coming from.

The mysterious smell spread throughout Spooner Middle School last Wednesday, resulting in students and staff becoming ill and experiencing "physical discomfort," the Spooner Area School District has said. The district cancelled school as a precaution, promising to uncover the source of the "strong epoxy-like odor."

But five days later, the school has few, if any answers for concerned parents, students and workers.

As of Monday afternoon, a total of 40 students and 24 staff members — a increase from Friday — have received medical treatment after their exposure to the strange smell, the district said. Some were even admitted to hospitals, with the district Monday saying it is "grateful" those individuals "have now returned home to their families." 

The district continued: "Please join us in wishing all of those who have fallen ill a speedy and full recovery."

Meanwhile, Spooner Middle School remains closed as the odor persists in three areas of the building, with more advanced sampling of the school's indoor air and materials happening Monday, as investigators try to suss out where the sickening odor is emanating from. The tests will look for "Volatile Organic Compounds and Semi Volatile Organic Compounds," the district said, after repeated carbon monoxide tests came back negative.

The district had initially pointed the finger at construction work happening on storm drains but quickly backtracked, noting the source is undetermined.

"The most critical piece of this matter continues to be the health and safety of our students and staff members," the district said, adding: " In person learning will not resume at Spooner Middle School until we are assured the environment is safe for everyone in the building."

Middle school students and parents were told to plan for remote learning, with the school offering a pick-up options for families to get needed computers, materials and other devices. If families were unable to make it, staff will drop off the items at students' homes. 

Spooner High School, Spooner Elementary School and Washburn County Alternative High School are not affected.

Spooner is located about 65 miles south of Duluth.

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