7 students treated for carbon monoxide exposure after getting sick on school bus

ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. — Seven students on a Rowan-Salisbury Schools bus were hospitalized after they were possibly exposed to carbon monoxide on March 24, an assistant fire chief told Channel 9.

Bus No. 372 was coming from Hanford Dole Elementary School when it pulled over at the Miller’s Ferry Volunteer Fire Department, which was where the students and driver got help from firefighters, officials said.

Bobby Fox, the assistant fire chief, said his daughter was on the bus and gets dropped off at the fire department as part of its normal route.

“I think when he pulled in to drop my granddaughter off, he checked his bus and realized there was someone in the back of the bus sick,” Fox said. “At that point, he stopped the bus completely.”

He noticed that more than one student was in distress.

“One was laying on the floor pretty much unconscious at that point, and then one more, kind of in the seats slumped over,” Fox said. “Not really talking or moving.”

Parents were notified immediately. An EMT at the fire department evaluated the students for carbon monoxide exposure.

“Classic signs of nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness,” Fox said about three of the students.

Four others also had elevated levels of carbon monoxide but were not showing symptoms, the assistant fire chief said. The seven exposure cases did not appear to be severe, Fox said.

The bus driver was treated for an existing condition not related to carbon monoxide exposure. The seven students taken to the hospital were all sitting in the back of the bus, Fox said.

On April 11, officials told Channel 9 that they could find no reason why the students got sick.

On the day the kids got sick, parents picked up the other 20 children who were not taken to a hospital. Officials with the district also responded to the scene.

Parent Carolyn Rios was concerned when her daughter’s school bus didn’t show up on time. She then got a call that any parent would dread.

“‘Pick up your kids at the fire department,’” Rios said. “We live like three houses down. My husband ran to the fire department.”

Rios’ daughter was discharged Friday night from Rowan Novant Medical Center.

“More than anything, it was her blood pressure. That they couldn’t get it to come down,” Rios said. “It was really elevated. They weren’t sure if it was related to the carbon monoxide.”

It’s not clear what caused the children’s elevated carbon monoxide levels.

Rios said her daughter has been reporting something similar for at least the last two weeks.

“The kids have been mentioning that there were other children having upset stomachs, throwing up on the bus,” Rios said. “I don’t know if it’s related.”

Rios said she is going to think twice about whether her daughter will be back on the bus on Monday.

According to the director of transportation, the bus was a 2015 model made by International CE Bus. It was last inspected on March 20 and passed with no issues, officials said. The district first put it into service in spring 2016.

The director said the bus has been tested several times for carbon monoxide but the fire department found no trace. They still investigating, though, and will perform several tests with a CO meter while following the route the bus takes.

When the bus gets put into service again will depend on what their findings are, officials said.

Return to this story for updates.

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Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.