Police are still investigating Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley. The Nye County Sheriff’s Office arrested a teacher and charged him with child abuse, neglect or endangerment.
Detectives found multiple victims of assault. Students told police they had injuries and broken bones and they were refused medical care.
During that investigation, the sheriff’s office also discovered the school’s water has high levels of arsenic and other dangerous chemicals.
Students complained they drank and showered in the contaminated water, causing them to break out in rashes and get sick.
CSN professor Dr. Doug Sims studies arsenic and its levels in the valley’s water.
“Arsenic is a carcinogen, it’s very bad for you,” he said.
Arsenic along with other toxic chemicals was found in the water at Northwest Academy.
“What happened out there – they’re pulling their water from a well, so it’s going to have arsenic by definition,” Dr. Sims said. “The key is what is the level? When did they know the level exceeded the MCL (maximum contamination level) of the federal government?”
In 2017, the Nevada Bureau of Safe Drinking Water discovered the school’s water treatment system for arsenic and other chemicals wasn’t working.
In early 2018, the state ordered Northwest Academy to replace the water treatment system and notify students and parents about the problem.
A year later, the sheriff’s office found that the issue had not been resolved. Instead, the school was giving students “three small bottles of water” which investigators called “insufficient.”
Students told investigators they were drinking and bathing in the water daily.
“Juveniles reported rashes, which they believed was caused by showering in contaminated water,” the sheriff’s department said in a video post on Facebook.
Doctors tested the students and confirmed that link.
“These are children. Their systems are developing at various stages and that’s the concern I would have,” Dr. Sims said.
FOX5 wanted to learn more about arsenic and its effects.
“If you have high enough amounts of arsenic, you would taste a semi metallic flavor,” Dr. Sims said.
He added even though the school’s arsenic level was triple the standard level, students wouldn’t have noticed.
“That’s about four or five grains of salt in an entire litter of salt,” he said. “Even three times that level, you’re not going to smell it, taste it, or feel it either.”
But Dr. Sims said it’s likely students will notice long-term health problems.
“If you’re taking small amounts, trace amounts, and not know it for years, even months, you’re going to see some issues later on in life.”
State health officials added arsenic can lead to cancer, heart problems, diabetes and other chronic issues.
Dr. Sims shared some of the early warning signs of contamination.
“[Parents] need to look to see if their children develop rashes, if they have hair falling out on an usual schedule, too much falling out. Are they getting diarrhea? Diarrhea is another symptom of arsenic exposure,” he said.
Despite what doctors confirmed to investigators, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection said it has not found any data that links the arsenic found in the water to those students’ rashes.
FOX5 went to Northwest Academy on Monday. School officials did not say if the water has been fixed. But they did confirm the campus is still open.
FOX5 also tried to verify information online but found Northwest Academy’s website has been taken down.