1 in serious condition after CO exposure in Montezuma Creek school

Posted at 10:02 PM, Nov 18, 2013

MONTEZUMA CREEK -- About 30 minutes into the school day at Montezuma Creek Elementary School, a series of 911 calls ended the day as it was beginning.

“The first one was a student that was down, sick to her stomach, tears and eye problems,” said Rick Bailey, emergency services director for San Juan County.

Not long after, more came forward.

“An hour later, they had an adult down,” Bailey said. “And then 10 minutes later, call was multiple patients down at that point in time.”

That’s when school administrators realized something was wrong and evacuated the building.

“It was chaotic,” Bailey said. “We had a large number of vehicles, response vehicles.”

A total of 44 students and staff were taken to hospitals in and out of the state. Three people were transported by medical helicopter, including a student. As of Monday night, all were reported to be in good condition. However, a reading coach from the school was taken to a Salt Lake area hospital, where the nearest hyperbaric chamber is located.

Emergency personnel from Montezuma Creek, Bluff, Monticello, Blanding and Navajo Nation arrived at the school, where San Juan School District officials said an estimated 280 students were in attendance.

According to Bailey, the cause of the problem came from the school’s boiler room, where a pipe became disconnected from a water heater and sent carbon monoxide flowing into the building.

“We don’t know when the leak actually started,” Bailey said. “It could have started last weekend, or it could have started this morning.”

The front of the school took the brunt of the impact, measuring dangerously high CO levels. In the school’s kitchen, located below the boiler room, Bailey said detectors measured CO levels of 312 ppm.  A nearby classroom, filled with students, reached 197 ppm. A safe CO level is considered to be approximately 30 ppm.

“So, we’re very lucky that no one was any more hurt than this,” Bailey said.

The heater was taken offline Monday, and temporary CO detectors were installed to monitor levels throughout the evening. At last measurement, they were found to be at zero. School was expected to resume Tuesday morning.

“Like I say, we’re very, very lucky,” Bailey said.