Kids exposed to old chemicals from SF jail had lingering symptoms

Students sickened by decades-old chemical agents during a training exercise at the nearby San Francisco County Jail last week experienced lingering symptoms, parents said.

Parents of elementary students at Portola Elementary School in San Bruno said the children experienced more severe reactions to the chemical exposure beyond the burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat that were first reported. The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the new development.

Parent Paul DeMartini said his child experienced post-exposure symptoms that appeared 24 hours later.

"Continuous vomiting over 11 hours, every four hours he was getting sick," DeMartini said. "It was worse than we had initially thought." He said the symptoms lasted 48 hours in total, but he heard from other parents that the symptoms lasted longer.

DeMartini said the school did its best given the circumstances, but wished the school had provided better communication sooner.

"So we could have treated our kids in a timely manner, instead of having to wait the next day to find out that they were even sick," he said.

DeMartini said it wasn't until he and other parents banded together in an online chat group that the school district and the sheriff's office provided greater insight.

"After we shook the tree a little bit, we were able to get them to clean the school on that Friday," he said. The chemical exposure happened on Wednesday.

DeMartini said he and other parents still have many questions about how routine training went wrong.

San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto said all training with chemical agents has been paused since the incident on May 21. The exposure happened during a training exercise at the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno.

Members from the sheriff's office's emergency services unit and UC Berkeley police officers participated in a two-hour crowd control training session.

The session happens once a year and is held at the same site every year, according to Miyamoto.

He said some of the residual gas from last Tuesday's exercise moved out of the confined exercise area and into the community. A large number of canisters were used that deployed the chemicals. The sheriff said the chemicals likely escaped when they vented the trailer where the exercise was held. Two dozen students and staff at neighboring Portola Elementary School were sickened.

Miyamoto said the chemicals, which included tear gas and pepper spray, were a few decades old, but he could not provide an exact date. He said the ongoing investigation will shed more light on that.

"In our training, we use old agents as a part of our training, so we are not using current ordnance or supplies. That has been a custom and practice of ours. So in this particular case, it was not something out of the ordinary," he said.

The sheriff said this incident has been a teaching lesson for his agency as they reassess how they will conduct chemical training moving forward to ensure this doesn't happen again.