Jefferson County Open School was evacuated Monday afternoon when several children on the school’s playground started coughing and complaining of itchy eyes, officials said.
“In searching the playground area, employees found pieces of approximately six habanero peppers scattered in the wood chips,” Jefferson County Public School District said in a statement. “Coming in contact with the pepper oil would cause many of the symptoms that students experienced.”
How the peppers became strewn across the playground is unclear.
Seven students were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment, and roughly two dozen more were treated on site, ABC affiliate KNGH reported. Fire officials ruled out an early theory that fertilizer applied to the school’s soccer field might have triggered the reactions.
Officials are now “in the process of washing the playground equipment and wiping down surfaces inside to ensure that the school is free of any residual pepper oil” when the school reopens Wednesday, according to a statement.
The wood chips in the playground are also being replaced.
Today the school’s website features a bright orange pepper with the message, “Tomorrow we will be open again!”