Officials suspect a floor-polishing machine to be the cause of a carbon-monoxide leak that left two children unconscious and sent dozens more to hospital at a daycare north of Montreal.
When first responders arrived at the Garderies Les Petits Explorateurs in Saint-Eustache on Tuesday morning, they came upon a worrisome scene: Children and staff were complaining of nausea, headaches or were vomiting. Two children had passed out.
They summoned firefighters, whose reading confirmed that high levels of carbon monoxide had seeped into the centre.
The daycare was evacuated and the nearby Saint-Eustache Hospital declared a Code Orange to prepare for the mass arrival of patients. The emergency ward geared up as 71 children were whisked in by ambulance or school bus.
Within 20 minutes of their arrival, tests showed the children had suffered carbon monoxide poisoning. Several were treated immediately with oxygen.
"Carbon monoxide is a gas you can't see or smell," public-health official Marie-Claude Lacombe said at an afternoon news conference. "So it was a good hunch by ambulance workers to think of carbon monoxide when they arrived on site and saw the children's discomfort."
Most of the children were expected to be released from the hospital on Tuesday, while five with more serious symptoms were being transferred to the Sainte-Justine children's hospital in Montreal to be followed.
Alain Turcotte, director of professional services at the hospital, said exposure to the gas was low so none of the children was expected to suffer ill effects.
Officials said they suspect a floor-polishing machine powered by propane, used for cleaning the daycare on Monday night, was behind the leak. Dr. Turcotte said that if improperly burned, propane can free up carbon monoxide.
The daycare was not equipped with carbon monoxide detectors.
Federal leaders commented on the incident. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau tweeted that he was concerned by the news: "Thinking of the children, workers, and their families at this trying time." Prime Minister Stephen Harper called it "very worrisome news" on his Twitter feed and said he hoped for "the quick recovery of all those involved."
Psychological support was being offered to the children's parents.
"I can't imagine the news, while I'm at work, that a child has a problem and that the daycare brought all the children to hospital," said Quebec Families Minister Francine Charbonneau. "So the parents were taken care of too."
Carbon monoxide can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea at low concentrations. At higher levels, it can be lethal.