Habanero peppers hidden on a playground led to the evacuation of a school and the hospitalization of several Lakewood, Colo., students on Monday.
Students had complained of skin and eye irritation. Officials were initially unsure what was causing the illnesses, according to 9 News. On Tuesday, authorities announced that the "toxic irritant" was pieces of about six habanero peppers that had been mixed in with the playground's wood chips.
Jefferson County schools spokesperson Lynn Setzer told the Associated Press it isn't yet known how the peppers ended up on the playground.
Police, firefighters, and a hazardous materials team all responded to the scene. Students ranging from prekindergarten through 12th grade attend the school. Some were treated on the scene; others were taken to the hospital for further observation.
Following the evacuation, all students were sent home. The school was closed on Tuesday so that playground equipment and indoor surfaces could be cleaned. Classes are expected to resume on Wednesday. Authorities don't expect any long-term effects, according to 9 News.
It may sound ridiculous that a few peppers could lead to hospitalizations and the closing of an entire school, but habaneros are many times hotter than the spicy jalapenos that are familiar to many people. It's recommended to wear gloves even just to touch habanero peppers.
A habanero can score between 200,000 and 300,000 Scoville heat units. A jalapeno, by comparison, scores a comparatively frosty 5,000.
So, yeah, handle with care.
Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).
- Habanero peppers