Carbon monoxide leak hospitalizes about 20 students at trade school in Montana

Friday, August 27th 2004, 8:35 pm
By: News On 6

ANACONDA, Mont. (AP) _ A cracked exhaust pipe on a heater caused a carbon monoxide leak that sickened 30 male students in a dormitory at a trade school Friday, leaving some unconscious and others suffering convulsions, authorities said.

Twenty students were flown to hospitals in Billings and Spokane, Wash., said Anaconda Fire Chief Bill Converse. They had to be flown to hospitals with hyperbaric chambers, in which patients breathe 100 percent oxygen to remove the carbon monoxide from their blood.

Authorities were called to the Anaconda Job Corps Center at about 7:30 a.m. after a nurse reported finding several dozen students sick, Converse said.

``She didn't know what was going on, but she knew something was wrong,'' he said. ``When we got there, there were some students that were unconscious, there were some that were in convulsions and seizures. There were others who were conscious, but just weren't with us, if you know what I mean.''

Their ages and conditions were not immediately available. The center serves men and women ages 16 to 24, according its Web site.

The leak appeared to have originated in an exhaust pipe attached to the dorm's furnace, Detective Steve Barclay said. Converse said the pipe had cracked and allowed exhaust to vent inside the building.

Crews from NorthWestern Energy were called in, and immediately detected high levels of carbon monoxide, company spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch said.

How long the colorless, odorless gas had been leaking was not immediately clear. Montana has experienced unseasonably cold weather this month, and temperatures in the area dipped into the low 40s Thursday night, forcing many residents to kick their furnaces back on.

The Anaconda Job Corps Center serves 224 students and offers on-campus housing. Students can be trained in welding, clerical skills, painting, carpentry, engineering, mechanics, bricklaying and culinary arts.

It is part of the federal Jobs Corps program, in which young students learn a trade, earn a high school diploma or GED and get help finding a job. Job Corps supports its students for up to 12 months after they graduate from the program.

A call to the center was not immediately returned.

Anaconda is about 15 miles west of Butte, in south-central Montana.