School slowly returns to normal after CO poisoning
Nov 27, 2013 | 1683 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
While many things have returned to normal at Montezuma Creek Elementary School, the investigation continues into the carbon monoxide poisoning that sent dozens of students and staff to the hospital on November 18.

More than 40 people were evacuated to area hospitals, including two by life-flight helicopter. All but a handful were treated and released the same day.

Reading coach Connie Todachinnie was life-flighted to an area hospital and then transferred to LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, where she underwent several days of treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. She was released from the hospital on November 20.

It was determined that an industrial-sized hot water heater, used to provide heating and water to the school, was venting burned propane directly into the school rather than being vented to the outside.

The cause of the incident that damaged the vent is still under investigation. Officials from Utah State Risk Management and the State Fire Marshall are heading the investigation. It appears as if the accident occurred inside a factory-installed vent.

The incident may have happened earlier in the weekend, leaving several days for the school to fill with the deadly gas.

Soon after school began on Monday morning, a student and teacher began to feel the impact of the gas. It was then that the school was evacuated.

More students began to collapse after the evacuation, triggering the transfer to area hospitals in ten ambulances and two life-flight helicopters.

The impacted heater has been disconnected until the investigation is complete. In the meantime, the school is heated with another industrial-sized hot water heater that is on the site. District officials state that the heater that was damaged is approximately two years old.

Carbon monoxide monitors were installed in the school before school reopened the following day. Officials state that the detectors will be installed in all 12 schools in the school district.

Approximately 25 percent of the students attended school on Tuesday, the day after the incident. By Wednesday, attendance was 75 percent of the student body and staff.

Carbon monoxide detectors are not required in Utah schools, but a state legislator has announced that he will seek support for a law to require the devices.

A team of school psychologists and crisis management experts were in the school for several days after classes resumed. 

There were significant contributions in this effort by district staff, San Juan Counseling, Utah Navajo Health Systems and the Navajo Nation.

School and district administration were busy for several days meeting with students, staff, parents, chapter and tribal officials.

School officials state that a second parent meeting will be scheduled in the near future.  It will include updates about the situation and information from medical personnel about the possible long-term impact of carbon monoxide exposure.
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