ORANGE, Mass. (WWLP) — At least 10 children were taken to the hospital after an incident at a Massachusetts school in which gum containing “pepper” was handed out to students during recess. Police warned of a possible connection to a TikTok challenge.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Teahan-Zielinski, superintendent of the Orange School District, a Dexter Park school student purchased the gum — called Trouble Bubble — online and offered it to several students.
It contained products that when ingested, caused digestive issues and burning in the mouth and esophagus. Students who just touched the gum were also reporting skin reactions such as eye irritation.
“I’ve been a bus driver for over 20 years and have never seen anything like this,” said Kelly Graves, a bus driver for the Orange School District. “More of the bus drivers talking about it because when they pulled up to the school to see all the emergency vehicles, it was quite alarming.”
The Orange Fire Department said six students were taken to the hospital along with multiple other students taken by their parents. Ambulances from Athol, Northfield, Phillipston, and Turners Falls assisted in bringing kids to the hospital.
The gum contains the same active ingredient as police pepper spray. Trouble Bubble has a 16 million Scoville Heat Unit rating, tied with one of the hottest peppers in the world. The SHU rating is used to categorize peppers as mild, medium, hot, or extra hot.
“The symptoms were mild to moderate skin irritation as well as mucus membrane irritation. Eyes and nose, and some children experienced a difficulty breathing,” said Orange Fire Chief James Young.
Now, some are connecting this to a viral trend on TikTok. The Southborough Police Department posted after Tuesday’s incident a warning of a “TikTok gum challenge.”
Southborough Police wrote in a statement that anyone found to have used the gum should be treated for extensive exposure to oleoresin capsicum — an oily pepper extract — by immediately having them rinse, swish around, and spit out water.
Teahan-Zielinski said appropriate disciplinary action will be taken following an investigation.
“I ask that you speak with your child about bringing in candy or accepting such items in school which are not permitted as part of our wellness policy,” said Teahan-Zielinski. “It is difficult for students to understand that items can often contain ingredients others are allergic to or created to cause physical distress.”