British Columbia

'Everyone is safe': B.C. farm workers in carbon monoxide scare discharged from hospital

The owner of a Metro Vancouver farm where 42 workers were taken to hospital for possible carbon monoxide exposure says they have been discharged and are safe.

42 workers sent to hospital Saturday, cause of exposure still under investigation

Forty-two workers from Windset Farms in Delta, B.C., were taken to hospital Saturday due to possible carbon monoxide exposure in one of the greenhouses at the farm. All are safe, says the farm owner. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

The owner of a Metro Vancouver farm where 42 workers were taken to hospital for possible carbon monoxide exposure says they have been discharged.

John Newell, chief operating officer at Windset Farms of Delta, B.C., says all his workers are safe.

"No one is in the hospital anymore," he said. "They're all OK and I believe the last couple of people were taken home by our team from one of the hospitals involved at about 1:30 in the morning … I'm just so happy that everyone is safe."

WorkSafeBC, which is investigating the incident, said six workers had carbon monoxide exposure.

They are all seasonal workers from Guatemala and Mexico, and live on the farm.

They were washing the greenhouse with pressure washers to prepare for winter planting when the incident occurred, Newell said.

He said farm staff immediately called first responders.

Treatment in hyperbaric chambers

Linda Lupini, executive vice-president of BC Emergency Health Services, said first responders arrived on scene with the understanding that some of the patients had been exposed to some chemical.

"We have a very strict protocol for those kinds of situations," Lupini said.

Once first responders figured out it was carbon monoxide exposure, they assessed people's symptoms and directed them to specific neighbouring hospitals according to what treatment they required.

Carbon monoxide exposure can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and disorientation, and eventually death. The treatment is to breathe pure oxygen, which may be administered within a hyperbaric chamber.

Lupini said 10 workers with more severe symptoms were taken by ambulance and the remaining 32 workers were taken by bus to different hospitals in the surrounding area.

She said she believed all 42 workers had been released, but some of the patients will have to receive followup treatment.

Cause still under investigation

Newell said he isn't sure what caused the incident. 

"We've never, ever experienced anything like this before. We take extreme precautions and have a very, very safe work environment," he said.

"The venting of the greenhouse was obviously a problem for last night."

Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said the investigation will look at whether the regulations were followed properly, as well as examine what more can be done to protect farm workers.

"Farm work is dangerous work," she said. "One of the things that we've been very active in calling for is random inspections of farms and increased inspections so that we can find these problems out before they cause the injury of workers."

Trish Chernecki from WorkSafeBC said carbon monoxide levels have returned to normal in the greenhouse.

Newell said his workers have been cleared to return to work on Monday.

To hear more, click on the audio link below: