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Carbon monoxide poisoning at Provo church serves as reminder of cold weather risks

60 people were treated after meetinghouse was evacuated

A meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

PROVO — A carbon monoxide leak that put dozens of Provo churchgoers in the hospital this week served as a reminder that when temperatures drop, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning goes up.

Intermountain Healthcare facilities treated 60 people after a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was evacuated Sunday, the medical center said Monday. It was initially reported that only eight people had been treated.

As the weather gets colder and heaters are fired up once again, it’s imperative that people make sure both their carbon monoxide alarms and heat sources are functioning properly, health care officials emphasized in the aftermath of the Provo incident. Carbon monoxide poisoning is often the result of a malfunctioning furnace or other heating appliance, but can usually be prevented with the right precautions.

“Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious matter,” said Dr. Lindell Weaver, a doctor specializing in hyperbaric medicine at LDS Hospital. “Be wary of this poisoning, because it really can create hardship.”

Firefighters were called to the meetinghouse at 650 E. Stadium Ave. in Provo just after 11 a.m. Sunday. They later learned that a boiler problem had sent a buildup of carbon monoxide into the church, according to a spokeswoman for the Provo Fire Department. The building was evacuated.

Of the 60 people treated, 24 underwent hyperbaric treatment, a therapy where people with carbon monoxide poisoning are put in a chamber filled with pure oxygen.

“Hyperbaric reduces the prospect and the risk for brain related injury, but not perfectly,” Weaver said.

Out of the 24 patients treated, he said, “some of those people unfortunately will likely end up with lifelong or many monthslong problems.”

Firefighters measured the carbon monoxide in the air at the church at 400 to 500 ppm, said Dominion Energy spokesman Don Porter. A Dominion Energy worker who arrived on the scene later measured the carbon monoxide at about 220 ppm.

Typically, evacuation occurs at 200 ppm, Porter said, meaning “there was a lot of carbon monoxide in the building.”

Porter and Weaver both urged people to keep working carbon monoxide alarms and to make sure their furnaces, boilers and other heating sources are properly maintained.

“Every single year they need to get a licensed professional in to look at their furnace to diagnose problems just like this,” Porter said. “Often when that furnace is sitting dormant over summer months, problems can develop.”

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of the flu, Weaver said in a statement. Those symptoms can include nausea, tiredness, aches and pains.

“If you suspect you have been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide, you should leave immediately and seek help,” Weaver said.