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Several children treated for carbon monoxide following leak at Nashville daycare

By Stacey Cameron

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    NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WSMV) — WSMV4 Investigates has learned that the Tennessee Department of Human Services is looking into a carbon monoxide leak incident at Elm Hill Academy in Nashville.

Parents said they got an alert from the daycare around 10 a.m. on Jan. 5, warning them about the leak and telling them they should come pick up their children.

Elizabeth Egan’s ten-month-old son, Hollis, attended the school. When the school sent out a notification that children were being evacuated, Egan rushed to Elm Hill. However, less than an hour later, her son was back in his classroom, looking unwell.

“He was pale, his color was not right, and he was lethargic,” Egan said. “It was terrifying.”

Upon the advice of her pediatrician, Egan brought Hollis to Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s emergency department, where he was diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning and respiratory problems.

Hollis was back in the hospital on Monday for breathing treatments, according to Egan, who says she’s worried about long-term health effects from the exposure.

“He’s so fragile already,” Egan said. “And the air he’s breathing, it was poison, and I just couldn’t fathom it and it was so awful. Now doctors are warning us about things like developmental delays.”

Egan said she met two other mothers at Vanderbilt on Friday whose children were also at Elm Hill and exposed to the leak.

“The second mother, that kid had already thrown up three times and was doing worse than Hollis at the time,” Egan said.

Haley Montgomery pulled her eight-month-old daughter, Gray, out of school after warning staff about a possible carbon monoxide leak, but nothing was done.

Montgomery said after receiving messages about the leak at Elm Hill, she took her daughter to the emergency room, where she was also treated for breathing issues related to elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

“The school says the leak happened Friday,” Montgomery said. “But I don’t believe that was the only time because my daughter is sick now, and she wasn’t there Friday.”

Both mothers claim the daycare did not have carbon monoxide detectors at the school, and the leak was detected when another parent with a detector walked into Elm Hill, and the alarm went off.

“If that parent hadn’t walked in and that alarm hadn’t gone off, I don’t know where Hollis would be,” Egan said. “I don’t even want to go there. What might have happened? And not just to Hollis, but all the other kids at the daycare, and the people working there, teachers and staff. It’s horrible.”

WSMV4 Investigates called Elm Hill for comment about the leak but has not heard back from the daycare at the time this report was published.

WSMV Investigates later received a statement on Monday evening:

The administration promptly evacuated the building and called in Davidson County Fire. Our administrators issued an email and notification via direct message to all Elm Hill Academy families simultaneously. This communication was initiated as we actively gathered information from the affected families, Tennessee Poison Control, and other HVAC/air purification vendors.

To address the immediate concerns, we sought advice from Tennessee Poison Control, who recommended the following steps:

Parents and employees should seek immediate evaluation at the emergency room if their children exhibit symptoms such as lethargy, dizziness, or nausea.

Parents with concerns or questions are advised to contact their pediatrician for guidance on next steps.

We encouraged all present at the school to seek medical treatment and our understanding is that at this time all individuals who sought medical treatment have been discharged.

The root cause of the carbon monoxide issue has been identified as a malfunctioning HVAC unit. Unfortunately, because of how the HVAC unit failed, our thermostat sensors did not adequately detect and react to the elevated levels of carbon monoxide. We are actively working to create new redundancies to prevent something like this from happening again.

In our ongoing efforts to prevent a recurrence of such an incident, we have taken the following measures:

As of Friday, the HVAC company has sealed and decommissioned the specific faulty unit, which serviced two classrooms and the back hallway of the building.

Our team, vendors, and partners sourced a brand-new HVAC unit Friday and over the weekend to replace the faulty unit.

A commercial crane alongside a dedicated expert HVAC installation team has been on site all day today (1/8/2024) and targeting finishing tomorrow subject to weather.

All other functioning HVAC units have been thoroughly inspected to ensure nothing like this could happen again.

We are adding new hardwired carbon monoxide monitors and automatic shutoffs on each of the three HVAC units (All of our HVAC units)

We are adding new halo air scrubbers on each of the three HVAC units (All of our HVAC units).

Acquired two different types of additional carbon monoxide alarms/monitors as backup redundancies to the HVAC system automatic shutoffs.

Throughout this process, we have been and will continue to rely on the expertise of Tennessee Poison Control and our HVAC/air purification partners for their support and guidance to both address the current situation and prevent any such incidents in the future.

-Elm Hill Academy Administration

In a message on the app shared with WSMV4, the daycare told parents the leak was coming from a malfunctioning HVAC unit.

Elm Hill was open on Monday, and according to a message sent to parents, a new HVAC unit was being installed.

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