12 Sick, 10 Hospitalized after Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

At least a dozen employees became ill, and ten remained hospitalized Monday evening, after they were exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning at the West Feliciana Parish Courthouse in St. Francisville, said sheriff Austin Daniel.

Four employees left work around noon Monday complaining of various illnesses.   At first, the sheriff said, co-workers thought the sick employees had some sort of virus.   Around 3pm, eight additional employees started showing signs of illness.   "A couple of them passed out, others had vomiting, nausea, headaches, and abdominal cramps," Daniel said.   The sheriff says firefighters responded to the courthouse and conducted carbon monoxide testing.   "The levels were off the charts," Daniel said.

Daniel said all of the employees are recovering and are beginning to show signs of improvement.   A spokeswoman for Lane Memorial Hospital in Zachary said that facility received one patient, a female, who was listed in stable condition Monday evening.   One patient was taken to a Baton Rouge hospital, the sheriff said.    The other eight hospitalized workers were being treated at West Feliciana Parish Hospital in St. Francisville.   West Feliciana Parish Hospital Administrator Mark Chustz said all eight patients showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.   He said all eight patients could possibly be released late Monday night.

Daniel said, by 6pm Monday, carbon monoxide levels in the courthouse had "gone back almost to zero".  He said a determination would be made early Tuesday morning about when the courthouse would be reopened.

The employees who became ill all worked for either the sheriff's department administrative staff or the tax assessor's office, the sheriff said.   The area of the courthouse where the problem occurred was constructed in August 2005.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas.   It is impossible to see, taste or smell its toxic fumes.   At lower levels of exposure, carbon monoxide causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Reporter:  Robb Hays, WAFB.COM