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Dozens of Washington County inmates sickened by carbon monoxide leak

June 23rd, 2013 7:26 pm by Becky Campbell

Dozens of Washington County inmates sickened by carbon monoxide leak

A cell pod as seen through security area at WCDC. (Press file photo/Tony Duncan)

More than two dozen Washington County Detention Center inmates were sickened early Saturday morning after a malfunctioning gas-powered water heater sent carbon monoxide through the ventilation into two cell blocks, a sheriff's office official confirmed.

Leighta Laitinen, spokesperson for the sheriff's office, said the incident caused officials to realize there is no carbon monoxide detector system installed at the jail. She said sheriff's office staff will meet Monday to discuss why there are no alarms and the steps needed to get them.

"We had a carbon monoxide scare at the jail (Saturday) morning," Laitinen said. "We had to send one inmate to the hospital, but he returned in few hours."

The inmate was unconscious and required immediate medical attention, she said. Several other inmates were nauseated and had headaches but were treated by jail medical staff."

One detention officer received oxygen as a result of the release, she said.

Officers became aware of the problem after several inmates began complaining about the headaches and nausea, Laitinen said. Fifty-one inmates in the two cell blocks were immediately removed from the affected areas - some into a recreational yard and others into booking - and treated with oxygen as needed, she said.

Laitinen said the water heater system was shut down and proper ventilation re-established in the cell pods.

"We also had Nes Levotch with Emergency Management Agency come to check carbon monoxide levels in each of the two pods," Laitinen said. Atmos Energy and sheriff's office maintenance staff also responded to repair the malfunction, created because the water heater system wasn't burning properly and failed to open vents to expel the carbon monoxide.

"As soon as the officer thought they smelled gas we evacuated both pods," Laitinen said.

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