School officials monitoring status of trash pile close to Okatie Elementary

School officials monitoring trash pile in Jasper County ahead of school Monday

RIDGELAND, S.C. (WTOC) - One Beaufort County school has an unusual situation it has to take into consideration for the start of school this year, and that’s the massive pile of debris about a mile from campus that has been burning for weeks.

Thursday, the EPA said they detected a low-level of hydrogen cyanide - a potentially deadly gas - coming from the pile. With students starting back to school on Monday, it’s been on many peoples’ mind.

While multiple agencies met Friday on how to clean up the burning pile, teachers, parents and students were just minutes away having their open house at Okatie Elementary School. This year, someone with the Department of Health and Environmental Control was also on-hand at the annual event.

“It made sense that because of this situation, DHEC was going to have someone there just in case parents had questions they wanted to ask,” said James Foster with Beaufort County Schools.

DHEC and the EPA installed an air quality monitor on the roof of the school Monday. It sends updates every 15 minutes.

“Our school protective services officer is working in concert with DHEC. He’s got the app on his phone that shows him those readings in real-time," Foster said.

The Beaufort County Public School system says they will be communicating daily with OES parents leading up to Monday, and will have public updates on their Facebook page.

Parents say thanks to that communication, they aren’t too concerned.

“I know they’ve done air quality tests around the school. That’s all been communicated with us via email and stuff, and so, I think it’s safe," said parent Scott Schultz. “I certainly don’t smell anything right now, and they’ve definitely determined that the air quality is good, so we’re all good, and I feel the kids are safe, and I’m comfortable with everything.”

“I am a little bit, but I know they’re doing a really great job trying to keep everything under control. They’ve been sending emails daily, if not more, letting us know what the numbers are," said parent Katie Riva.

The district says they plan to have a few extra school nurses at Okatie Elementary just as a precaution, but as conditions surrounding this burn constantly change, they have a plan if the air quality was to worsen.

“If things worsen over the weekend - and we’re going to be monitoring - but if they do worsen, we could possibly delay the open of school from 7:30 in the morning until 9:30, so that those levels would go down,” Foster said.

Since installing the monitor Monday, Foster with the school district says Friday morning, they had their lowest reading yet.

Okatie Elementary students will have recess inside Monday.

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