School board to inspect all schools after carbon monoxide leak

The head of Montreal's Marguerite Bourgeoys school board says all of the board's schools will be inspected as soon as possible, after around 50 students and staff were treated in hospital for carbon monoxide exposure Monday.

École des Découvreurs reopening Wednesday, nearly all patients released from hospital

Marguerite-Bourgeoys school board president Diane Lamarche-Venne says all of the board's schools will be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. (Radio-Canada)

The head of Montreal's Marguerite-Bourgeoys school board says all of the board's schools will be inspected as soon as possible after about 50 students and staff were treated in hospital for carbon monoxide exposure Monday.

School board chair Diane Lamarche-Venne told reporters Tuesday that officials will be checking approximately 80 schools to make sure they have working carbon monoxide detectors.

"We are going through all of our buildings and checking them out," said Lamarche-Venne. "If schools are found to not have detectors in place, they will be installed."

She said a faulty furnace system is believed to have caused the leak at École des Découvreurs in Montreal's LaSalle borough Monday morning. The heating system had been inspected by a specialized team before winter as per protocol, said Lamarche-Venne.

Fire officials have said the carbon monoxide levels in the school's hallways were as much as five times higher than levels that would normally trigger an evacuation.

School to reopen Wednesday

The school remained closed for inspections on Tuesday but will reopen Wednesday morning.

The school board said corrective measures had been taken on the heating system and a new carbon monoxide detector has been installed.

Additional staff will also be on hand to ensure the return to classes goes smoothly.

Lamarche-Venne said there was a carbon monoxide detector in the school that was inspected in mid-October. 

"Everything was functional," she said. "What happened yesterday, obviously it didn't function properly. So we're going to see to that for sure."

She said the school is equipped with both a carbon monoxide detector and a methane detector — although neither are mandatory under Quebec's construction code.

'No children were sent in an ambulance alone' 

"It's a sad event," said Lamarche-Venne. 

She said the school handled the situation well and followed the school board's emergency response guide.

School principals from the area came to help, and "no children were sent in an ambulance alone."

Dozens of children and staff at the LaSalle's Des Decouvreurs elementary school were taken by ambulance to at three Montreal hospitals, after an apparent carbon monoxide leak. (Radio-Canada)

Parents were first notified around noon, about 45 minutes after the initial 911 call was made. Before parents are notified, she said, it is important to make sure the information is accurate. 

A second notice was posted to the school's website and transmitted to parents by the end of the day Monday, she said.

"Let's hope we never have to go through that again," she said. "I think what we learned from through that is people react very quickly when there is an emergency."

'They did a great job'

Angie Velasquez Thornton agrees that the school handled the situation well.

Thornton has two daughters at École des Découvreurs. Evangeline, 6, is in kindergarten, and her big sister Isabella, 9, is in Grade 4.

The school responded quickly, she said, as the kids didn't even have time to collect their backpacks. They just threw on their winter coats, were shuffled out the door and walked to a nearby school, where they were served pizza.

"I was glad that they reacted so quickly, even if it means our kids' school books are still at school," she said. "I think they did a great job."

Angie Velasquez Thornton's daughters Evangeline, 6, and Isabella, 9, are both students at École des Découvreur. They were home safe Tuesday. (Kate McKenna/Radio-Canada)

Isabella saw for herself how dangerous exposure to carbon monoxide can be.

She was holding hands with a friend as they walked down a hallway when all of a sudden, Thornton said, "her friend fainted and literally fell forward and hit her head."

More sent to hospital overnight

Nine students between the ages of six and 13 lost consciousness at the school. Others felt nauseous or dizzy. Some vomited. 

On Monday, authorities said 35 students and eight adults were taken to three hospitals — the Montreal Children's, Sacré-Coeur and Sainte-Justine — but that number had risen by Tuesday morning.

Stephanie Tsigiotis, spokesperson for the Montreal Children's Hospital, said seven more students were treated and released overnight. Two patients are still under observation in the emergency room, she said.

Lamarche-Venne said almost everyone else has been released from hospital.

"All of them were walking and there were no life-threatening events or issues with those patients," Dr. Dominic Chalut, a pediatric emergency room doctor and toxicologist, who was working in the Children's emergency ER on Monday.

He told CBC Montreal's Daybreak that some of the patients were put in a hyperbaric chamber — an oxygen therapy device that promotes delivery of oxygen to cells and organs, reversing the poison's toxicity.

​"They all had significant exposure. But, fortunately for them, all of them were very stable. They suffered no significant injury," he said.

Not all schools have CO detectors

A portion of the buildings managed by Montreal's largest school board, the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), are equipped with gas detection devices, including carbon monoxide detectors, according to the CSDM's strategic advisor, Paul Gilbert.

He said the detectors are in garages, boiler rooms, laboratories and other "specialized" spaces — and mostly in newer buildings or buildings where the boiler room has been renovated.

"These detectors are inspected and calibrated twice a year by a specialized firm," he said. "An annual update, including a combustion test on all gas and oil equipment is done by another firm specializing in all the CSDM buildings."

The CSDM is currently taking inventory of all of its mechanical equipment and will evaluate its gas-detection devices, he said.

The English Montreal School Board has a "wide array" of gas detectors in its buildings that are checked twice annually, said EMSB spokesperson Mike Cohen in an email.

At the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île, heating systems are subject to regular inspections to ensure their safe operation, said assistant director Valérie Biron.

She said her board "is doing its utmost to provide a safe environment for its institutions."

About the Author

Isaac Olson has been a Montreal-area journalist for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @Isaac_J_Olson

With files from Jay Turnbull, Brian Lapuz and CBC Montreal's Daybreak


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.