Children were turned away from a school in Gateshead after an airborne virus killer machine malfunctioned, sending out too much dangerous disinfectant ozone gas into the building.
The move followed a sickness spell at Ravensworth Terrace Primary School in Birtley when it deployed its own ‘bug cleaning’ device to clean the air.
It is said the machine that releases ozone gas to kill any airborne viruses should have been left on for 60 minutes, but it failed to turn itself off overnight.
It's reported that the caretaker discovered the fault and the decision was made to not let pupils into the school and council bosses were informed.
Now, there is an investigation by Gateshead Council's health and safety officers to get to the bottom of what went wrong.
Parents turned up on Tuesday to be faced with the closure, while notifications were quickly placed on the council's website saying it was shut, along with an announcement on local radio.
When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and, throat irritation.
It may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma as well as compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.
A parent, who did not want to be named, said: “There had been a sickness breakout at the school and my daughter wasn’t well herself.
“I was told a bug cleaning machine was used but that malfunctioned. It was supposed to stay on for one hour but it didn’t switch itself off.
"There was too much ozone gas and many parents and children didn’t find out until we arrived at the school.
“It was a good idea to run a bug cleaning solution but I would have liked to have been informed beforehand that they were doing this, I would have liked to have been told what they were doing and why.
“Some children turned up for Breakfast Club and they had to be taken to the ‘forest school’ which is an outside area.
“I rang Gateshead Council’s health and safety and a woman there said tests of the levels of ozone had been taken and they were investigating the situation. The building had to be well ventilated and then tested at 12 hours and then at 24.''
After tests gave the all clear, headteacher Denise Thompson wrote a letter to parents and carers on Tuesday saying the school would be reopened on Wednesday.
In an letter posted on the school’s website she said: “I am pleased to inform you that school will be open as usual tomorrow.
"The local authority have conducted thorough checks as a precaution and have informed me that there is no trace of ozone in the building.
"Thank you all for your patience with this matter and the messages of thanks we received for our prompt action and ensuring the children remained safe. I hope you understand the need to be safe rather than sorry.”
The Public Health England North East health protection team confirmed they have been working with staff at Kells Lane Primary School in Low Fell, Gateshead, after a large number of pupils were struck down with a fever and vomiting outbreak.
The flare-up was played down by the health body saying the high numbers of sick children is “common at this time of year” - and “it is not uncommon for viruses including influenza (flu) and norovirus to circulate in the community and in schools.
A statement from the school said: “We’d like to reassure parents that there are no ongoing problems with ozone in our school.
“This week’s problem seems to have occurred as the result of an overnight malfunction in a piece of cleaning equipment designed to destroy airborne viruses. This has now been taken out of use.
“We have also had the school carefully inspected by specialist contractors and the ozone levels in the school are now completely normal.
“At no time were children exposed to any heightened levels of ozone.”
A Gateshead Council spokesman said: “We are currently investigating the circumstances around this incident.”