Two months after close to 50 people were sent to hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning, many students and staff members at Des Découvreurs elementary school in LaSalle are still suffering from symptoms.
Public health officials set up mobile medical clinics at the school in early March. A total of 244 students were seen and 99 needed further follow-up with a pediatrician.
“Out of those 99, there’s some that still need follow-up,” said Montreal public health physician Dr. Maxime Roy. “We know that delayed symptoms will usually show up after three to four weeks so that’s why we set up the clinic four to six weeks after the event.”
Three separate clinics were held to screen students and staff members at the LaSalle school. The goal was to make sure all students and staff members received proper medical attention and follow-up care.
“We set this up in partnership with the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal and l’Institut national de santé publique and St-Justine hospital,” said Roy. “We wanted to do it in the school setting so it would be easier for everyone to come.”
On Jan. 15, several students lost consciousness after carbon monoxide levels reached up to 900 parts per million (PPM) in the school’s heating room. Safe exposure levels, according to the province’s workplace safety board (CNESST), can go up to 35 PPM for a period of eight hours. Carbon monoxide levels can reach up to 200 PPM for a 15-minutes without causing harm.
While many were taken to hospital, Roy wanted to make sure those who didn’t speak up that day weren’t “suffering in silence.”
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The students and staff members who were most severely affected were treated in hyperbaric chambers at Sacré-Coeur Hospital immediately after the incident. While there is no treatment for delayed symptoms according to public health officials, they feel it’s important for families and school staff to understand that it could take up months for symptoms to subside.
“Most often we’re going to talk about memory problems concentration problems but it could also be hearing problems, loss of the sense of smell, balance problems,” Roy said. “Most often within a year it’s gone.”
At least four teachers are still on sick leave, suffering from physical and psychological symptoms related to the carbon monoxide leak. While parents who spoke to Global News seem satisfied with the medical follow-ups, many still have more questions than answers.
“We still want to know what happened and why it happened,” said Dan Thornton, whose two daughters attend the school.
Joseph Ogorek, the grandfather of a student at the school, described it as an awful situation for the children.
“I hope it won’t happen again for the kids,” he said.