HALFWAY — More than 30 people were exposed to carbon monoxide after high levels of the potentially dangerous gas were detected Monday night in a Home Depot distribution center off Hopewell Road, a fire official said.
It appears the individuals are OK, the official said Tuesday afternoon.
The incident began about 11 p.m. Monday when rescue crews were called to the distribution center at 16500 Hunters Green Parkway for an individual experiencing seizures, said Ed Ernst, chief of the Volunteer Fire Company of Halfway.
When crews arrived and got about 20 feet to 30 feet inside the building, carbon monoxide detectors they wear began activating, Ernst said.
At that point, carbon monoxide levels were climbing to over 190 parts per million, Ernst said. Home carbon monoxide detectors will start activating when levels reach about eight parts per million.
In warehouse environments like at the Home Depot facility, carbon monoxide levels of about 45 parts per million are allowed due to activities such as exhaust coming from work vehicles, Ernst said.
Carbon monoxide, or “CO,” is an odorless, colorless gas that can be fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be found in fumes from vehicles, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges and furnaces.
The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. Breathing large amounts of carbon monoxide can be fatal and cause one to pass out, the CDC said.
When high carbon monoxide levels were detected inside the Home Depot facility, medics began leaving the building “and telling everyone else to evacuate,” Ernst said. He said some of the workers inside started complaining of nausea and headaches.
Ernst said he called for more medics and ambulances to respond to the building. Some workers were transported individually to Meritus Medical Center east of Hagerstown, but when rescue crews started finding more people suffering from complications, a “mobile ambulance bus” was called to the scene to transport patients, Ernst said.
A total of 35 people were exposed to carbon monoxide and 10 were taken to the hospital for evaluation, said Carrie Adams, Meritus Medical Center’s chief operating officer. They were later released.
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Rescue crews shut off all natural gas in the building and carbon monoxide levels began dropping, Ernst said. By about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, levels in some areas of the building had dropped to about eight parts per million. There were no readings above 30 parts per million at that time.
Ernst said he thinks the high levels might have been attributed to a fuel-burning appliance in the building. He said the facility uses overhead heaters in the winter. The heaters were supposedly turned off, but Ernst said officials were looking into the possibility that one might have been left on and was “misfiring.”
Ernst said a representative from his department as well as one from Columbia Gas of Maryland returned to the distribution center around noon on Tuesday to look further into the situation.
Columbia Gas of Maryland spokesman Russell Bedell said no carbon monoxide was detected coming off any equipment his company provides gas to in the building.
Officials at the Home Depot distribution center could not be reached for comment.
Adams said treating multiple patients in such an incident can be challenging, but she said hospital staff and rescue crews worked well together during the incident.
“We are ever-ready to care for our community members, and last night was a powerful example of the importance working together during a time of need,” Adams said in a statement Tuesday.