More than a dozen people were hospitalized and hundreds more evacuated after being exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide on the Rock Island Arsenal Thursday afternoon.
Around 11:15 a.m., the Arsenal Fire Department first received a call for sick workers in one of three 150-year-old buildings on Rodman Avenue. The department quickly responded and signed off with no issues, said Garrison Commander Col. Elmer Speights at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Approximately 30 minutes later, they received word that people were feeling sick in the two adjacent buildings.
“We found the air quality at a level that warranted emergency action,” said Speights.
Crews then evacuated around 400 people from the three buildings, and they began to triage employees across the street. Ambulances, fire crews, and Metrolink buses from each of the Quad Cities responded to mutual aid calls.
Fourteen people were taken to the UnityPoint Health Trinity after reporting symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. By 3 p.m., all but one patient had been treated and released from the hospital. The final person was expected to go home later Thursday evening.
“We were lucky; it was kind of a slow day in the ER, so we managed it in that fashion,” said Trinity’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Trent Mull. “Communication was very good from the site.”
Arsenal leaders said they believe the cause of the air contamination was a delivery vehicle parked outside the office building.
“It was a diesel vehicle. One of our contractors was just parked there, trying to unload furniture. The way these buildings work, the air ports can pull air in, and it pulled in the exhaust. It may take up to an hour before it ventilates through the building and gets to affect people,” said Speights.
Arsenal Fire Chief Terry McMaster said crews found levels of carbon monoxide in areas of the building that reached 90 parts per million. The current Occupational Safety and Health Administration “permissible exposure limit” is 50 parts per million parts per air.
Public Works crews then ventilated the building, and by 2 p.m., employees were allowed to return to work.
“This was a one-in-100 event. The vehicle happened to be parked in the right place at the right time when the vents came open, so it’s not something that we have to worry about happening on a routine, regular basis,” said Speights.
Speights praised the “outstanding response” of his fire crew and the assisting departments.
“One of the fire chiefs was even here to assist with his personal vehicle, so we appreciate that support, and it’s one thing we want to reciprocate any chance we get,” said Speights.