An unknown substance initially designated as a "toxic irritant" forced the evacuation of Jefferson County Open School in Lakewood, Colorado Monday. Students had come in from recess complaining of eye and skin irritation. After a school-wide evacuation on Monday, the K-12 institution remained closed Tuesday as investigators tried to discern what "toxic irritant" had been deployed on the playground.
Police, firefighters and Hazmat crews surrounded the school at around lunchtime, and investigators found that six habanero peppers had been scattered in the wood chips on the playground. Thirty students and one teacher's aide were decontaminated on-site, and some were transported to a local hospital. The rest of the student body and staff were moved to a nearby church. No residual effects due to pepper oil exposure are expected.
The piquancy of a pepper is gauged by Scoville Heat Units. A zero rating is bland, and a regular jalapeno pepper registers at around 5,000 units. Habaneros generally score between 100,000 and 350,000 units on the Scoville scale. The record-setting Carolina Reaper pepper comes in at 1,569,300 Scoville Heat Units, with an individual pepper measured at 2.2 million. Police pepper spray typically scores at about 2 million Scoville Units. Pure capsaicin, which is the active component in peppers, registers at 16,000,000 units. The ultimate in Scoville Heat is resiniferatoxin, found in resin spurge, a cactus-like plant commonly found in Morocco. With a rating of 16,000,000,000 heat units, resiniferatoxin can literally melt one's face off via chemical burning, and causes heart attacks.
"Darth Naga" demonstrates ingesting pure capsaicin:
School district communications director Lyyn Setzler says it isn't known how the peppers got on the playground, and district maintenance workers are presently cleaning the playground equipment, replacing wood chips and disinfecting surfaces inside the school. Open School is set to be back in session on Wednesday.
Image via Wikimedia Commons