A day after 39 midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy were sickened by carbon monoxide, federal officials Monday said they were installing detectors to alert for the odorless, colorless gas.
As part of an interim safety measure, the school began placing consumer-grade carbon monoxide detectors in its six barracks and other buildings on the 82-acre campus in Kings Point.
The move is temporary, as the academy was planning to incorporate toxic gas detectors in its master alarm system, said Kim Riddle, acting director of public affairs for the U.S. Transportation Department's Maritime Administration, which overseas the academy. "The safety of the midshipmen is our top priority and we are taking every precaution to ensure that the affected buildings are safe and secure," Riddle said in a statement.
Thirty-nine midshipmen from the academy were taken to hospitals for treatment after high concentrations of carbon monoxide were detected in their blood. The cause had been traced to a hot water system that serviced the barracks, known as Barry and Jones halls, officials said.
Monday, firefighters again responded to the academy to test for carbon monoxide levels after a contractor repairing the hot water system turned it on about 4:30 p.m. and a midshipman called 911 after smelling a combustion odor, Riddle said.
The hot water heater was on for 10 to 15 minutes when it began discharging low levels of the poisonous gas, said Great Neck Alert Chief Raymond Plakstis.
Four students who complained of dizziness were checked out; and the hot water heater won't be turned back on until fixed, he said.
School officials did not return calls for comment.
Sunday night, students complained of nausea and dizziness before the complex was evacuated, officials said.
Carbon monoxide levels were between 55 and 210 parts per million, Plakstis said. "There shouldn't be any," he said.
Rogers, Cleveland, Barry and Jones halls, which can house more than 400 students, were impacted, Riddle said.
It was just after 9 p.m. and few had settled in for the night, Plakstis said.
"If this was a 3 o'clock in the morning call, we may have had some fatalities," Plakstis said. "It could have been a lot worse."
Great Neck Vigilant Fire Co. worked with members of the Academy's ambulance corps, who kept busy doing initial triage and patient tracking.
"When we got there we found about 150 people had been evacuated to a lecture hall," Vigilant Fire Chief Laurence Jacobs said. "Forty-one of them needed some type of medical care."
Many of those taken to hospitals were released Monday, including four who went to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx for hyperbaric-oxygen treatment.
Those patients tested at the scene had carbon monoxide levels in their blood ranging from 10 to 27 percent, Jacobs said.
With Gary Dymski
and Emily Ngo