Provincial building staff evacuated when CO detected

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  • Sep. 14, 2011 8:00 p.m.

By Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye

Employees were evacuated from the Ponoka Provincial Building Sept. 6 when carbon monoxide (CO) was said to be in excess of safe levels.

Atco Gas considers carbon monoxide (CO) levels of 75 parts per million (ppm) to be unsafe. The provincial building was found to have up to150 ppm in some pockets, according to Atco Gas spokesman Nathan Carter.

“There are two lines of defence, proper use and maintenance of appliances, especially gas appliances and a carbon monoxide detector,” explained Carter.

An Alberta Health Services employee used a personal carbon monoxide detector in the office, setting off an alarm, alerting employees in the building to the problem. The Ponoka Fire Department was called in, who then contacted ATCO Gas.

Once the building was ventilated and safe for use, building maintenance was able to enter and determine one of the two boilers’ dampers was not opening as it should and as a result, there was incomplete combustion, which created the CO leak.

“The good news is that an alarm went off and people left the building,” said Bart Johnson, director of communications at Alberta Infrastructure. The boiler was repaired the same day and people were able to work the day after. Air quality monitoring continued through the week and will continue this week. Johnson said the CO readings received were at 125 ppm, and when the boiler was repaired CO levels were down to what they consider a normal amount of 2.8 ppm.

A couple of years ago the other boiler in the building had a CO leak. Johnson explained it was repaired and is checked regularly. Alberta Infrastructure is considering CO monitors for the Ponoka Provincial Building, including in the boiler room.

Atco’s Carter said CO is colourless and odorless making it hard to detect. For residences he recommends installing a detector in several locations of the house and not operating vehicles in a closed space