ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- A malfunctioning heater sent a dangerously high level of carbon monoxide into a Pennsylvania day care center early Tuesday, sickening dozens of children — some of whom were unconscious as they were rushed to the hospital — and several adults.
More than 30 people were hospitalized. All were listed in stable condition.
Emergency responders went to the Happy Smiles Learning Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on reports of an unconscious child, and evacuated the building after a firefighter's CO monitor was triggered.
The leak was caused by a malfunctioning heating unit and a blocked venting system, investigators said. They noted the building did not have carbon monoxide detectors.
A new city ordinance requires CO detectors in child care facilities by Oct. 27, while legislation that would require them in all child care facilities statewide recently cleared the state Senate. The bill is awaiting action in the House.
Happy Smiles owner Jesenia Gautreaux said she will have CO detectors installed.
A staffer called Gautreaux at home to tell her a child had collapsed, Gautreaux told The Morning Call newspaper of Allentown. She arrived at the center within minutes and saw the boy in an ambulance, she said. He looked ill, she said, but gave her a thumbs-up.
“He was a little dizzy and out of it,” she told the newspaper, adding that other children cried as they evacuated. “I believe they were scared and worried about their friends."
Of the patients treated by hospitals in the Lehigh Valley Health Network, symptoms included headache, dizziness and nausea, “and several were unresponsive prior to arrival," Dr. Andrew Miller, chief of pediatric emergency medicine, said in a statement.
Some patients who had very high levels of carbon monoxide in their blood and "required more aggressive treatment" were transferred to hospitals in Philadelphia, about 50 miles away, he said.
City inspectors shut down the building and the day care facility’s license was suspended as a result of the leak.
“There will be multiple inspections needed from the Health Bureau, Building Standards, Fire Department — in order for this facility to reopen,” city spokesperson Genesis Ortega said via email.
Eight staffers were at the child care center, which usually cares for about 40 kids each day. Gautreaux said she plans to have the furnace repaired and reopen the day care center soon.
The center's last state inspection was conducted late last year, and state records show the only problem found was a door that remained locked when the fire alarm sounded. That was soon repaired, and no sanctions were issued.
This story has been corrected to show that a new city ordinance, not a state law, requires CO detectors at day care facilities.