At least 28 children and adults taken to hospital after carbon monoxide leak at day care

A carbon monoxide leak at a day care in Allentown, Pennsylvania, sent 28 children and staff members to the hospital.

On Oct. 11, officers responded to a 911 call about an unconscious child at the Happy Smiles Learning Center in Allentown, the city’s communications manager Genesis Ortega said.

After the local fire department arrived at the day care, the carbon monoxide monitors on their equipment went off. Ortega said the officials used a meter and found a “dangerously high” amount of carbon monoxide had been detected in the building. 

Authorities then evacuated 27 children and eight staff members from the facility, officials said in an updated statement posted on Twitter. Emergency medical services (EMS) “was on the scene and set up treatment and triage in the parking lot of the facility. A total of 28 patients were transported by ambulance to four area hospitals to be monitored,” the tweet read.

Allentown Fire Department Capt. John Christopher also noted, “All patients were stable, and right now it’s kind of wrapping up. I know some parents did show up and elected to take their children to get them checked out on their own.” 

He did not confirm how many of the patients were children. 

Christopher also informed reporters that there were no carbon monoxide monitors in the building. He said that

Ortega added that the Allentown Fire Department was working on ventilating the day care. The case is being investigated by UGI Utilities, a natural gas and electric company located in Pennsylvania. 

In a statement to NBC News, a spokesperson for UGI Utilities said, “UGI was called to investigate the source of carbon monoxide at the Happy Smiles Learning Center this morning. We determined the cause was a malfunctioning heating unit and blocked venting system. Gas was turned off to the facility until repairs can be made. UGI ensured there was no gas leak in the vicinity.”

Christopher explained to reporters, “That’s the problem with CO. You won’t smell it, you won’t taste it, you won’t see it. You’re not going to know it was there until you get a meter.”

Owner and director of Happy Smiles Learning Center Jesenia Gautreaux told reporters that the day care will be closed for the rest of the week. She said the center is working with health inspectors and that she had previously contacted an alarm system company to have carbon monoxide detectors installed in the building. 

Gautreaux said the company did not return her call. 

“We need to fix some of the stuff that caused this incident, but I will do my best to do it as quick as possible because I know my parents need me to reopen,” she said. 

The owner also told reporters that the center’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning passed an inspection on Aug. 12. 

Christopher also said, according to NBC10’s SkyForce10, the state passed a law mandating detectors at day care centers, but the deadline to have them installed is not until Oct. 27 of this year.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, there are two bills in the state’s legislature that would require carbon monoxide detectors to be placed in all child care facilities. However, the bills have not passed both chambers and currently only fire prevention measures are required.

Though in accordance with City of Allentown Fire Code, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors shall be present and functioning in day cares.

In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that over 400 Americans died every year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Carbon monoxide can be produced from faulty gas appliances, running cars in closed garages and burning charcoal indoors. 

Low-to-moderate CO poisoning can cause flu-like symptoms such as headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. High levels of CO poisoning could lead to more intense symptoms like mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and death.

Battery-powered CO alarms are available in stores like Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Lowes. Customers are encouraged to view the Consumer Reports about the alarms before purchasing. 

The device’s batteries should be checked at least twice a year and should be replaced every five years. 

If a CO alarm goes off, occupants should leave their home immediately, call 911 and remain outside until emergency services assess the situation.

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