Atchison, KS – At least two employees suffered influenza-like symptoms on Friday morning, possibly linked to carbon monoxide poisoning, after the Salvation Army of Atchison County, Kansas, experienced a serious contamination incident.
Atchison Fire Chief Ted Graf said staff at the Salvation Army building in the 900 block of Commercial Street in Atchison had complained of feeling unwell Friday morning, prompting the facility to replace its carbon monoxide detector.
They went out and bought a carbon monoxide detector, plugged it in and it immediately went into alarm, Graf said. When we arrived, it was reading at 300 parts per million.
Graf said guidelines set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) consider 50 ppm to be reflective of serious contamination; any amount in excess of 100 ppm will potentially kill a person exposed to such amounts of carbon monoxide over a long period of time.
Graf said the exact period of time a person can survive exposure to gasses concentrated at more than 100 ppm isn’t certain. Asked if gasses in excess of 300 ppm are very dangerous, Graf agreed.
It affects different people in different ways, he said.
Kim Bottorff, county coordinator for the Atchison office, said she is in recovery along with another sickened employee.
I’m feeling pretty good now, I mean, it’s starting to come back around, she said. They called the ambulance down to check on our stats and see what our saturation levels were … We weren’t required for transport or anything … I’m feeling much better now. Fresh air is amazing.
Graf emphasized that Atchison County EMS paramedics who examined the victims can’t yet confirm that carbon monoxide is the cause of their illness. However, the carbon-monoxide detection devices firefighters carry as part of their standard equipment went into alarm on Friday morning the moment firefighters entered the building.
A preliminary investigation, Graf said, has revealed the building is heated by two natural-gas fueled furnaces. One of the furnaces had a faulty flue, used to remove exhaust gasses from the furnace. Instead of releasing the gasses outside, the furnace had been containing the dangerous gas, which on its own produces no odor or color, inside the building.
Until the equipment confirmed to be is back in safe operation, Graf said, Kansas Gas Service will keep gas shut off to the building. Bottoff said new equipment has been ordered from The Salvation Army in Kansas City; her office will be closed for the next week, as for now, it has no source of heat.
Graf said the incident is a reminder of the importance of keeping and maintaining proper detection devices.
Everyone should have smoke detectors, he said. If you have natural gas or propane-fueled appliances in your home, you should get a carbon monoxide detector.