Dozens of people were hospitalized Monday morning after a carbon monoxide leak forced 280 students and faculty to evacuate a Utah elementary school.
The San Juan County Sherriff’s Office first received a 911 call from Montezuma Creek Elementary School at 8:21 a.m. reporting the smell of gas, and then minutes later received another call that students were feeling dizzy.
A medical helicopter transported one female student and one female teacher to a Colorado hospital and the rest of those sickened by the noxious gas were taken to area hospitals, including Blue Mountain Hospital in Blanding, Utah; San Juan Hospital in Monticello, Utah and Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colorado.
In all, 44 people were hospitalized.
Virtually all of the patients, excluding the female teacher and EMT, were expected to be released from hospitals Monday evening, authorities said.
The carbon monoxide leak began after an exhaust pipe stemming from one of two water heaters became detached and vented gas into a mechanical room, the kitchen and classrooms, according to the sheriff’s department. The heater has since been repaired and school is expected to be open Tuesday.
Local NBC affiliate KSL reported the highest levels of carbon monoxide were found near the kitchen and were at 300 parts per million. Bailey was unable to confirm that number.
“That could kill you,” said Dr. Mark Goldstein, the founder of Quantum Group Inc., which develops and sells carbon monoxide sensors.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a UN agency, says there should be a limit of 50 parts per million for an eight-hour exposure in the workplace for a healthy individual.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless gas that is deadly if people are exposed to it for too long. When it is inhaled, it prevents oxygen from being carried by the blood and can cause headaches or dizziness.
“Some people feel nothing and then just pass out,” Goldstein said. “You suffocate from the inside out, but it’s painless.”
Utah is one of 25 states that require carbon monoxide alarms in residential areas, but there does not appear to be any regulations for commercial buildings like hospitals or schools.
Goldstein said politicians do not usually pass legislation surrounding mandatory carbon monoxide detectors unless there is a tragic incident.
“Safety devices are needed,” he said. “They should be required.”