Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Prussing Elementary

By Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.



Tuesday November 3, 2015. It is now probably too late for those children at Prussing Elementary School in Chicago who suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning to get hyperbaric oxygen treatment. News reports indicate that all children were treated and released, having survived unscathed from the scare. Sadly, that isn’t likely to be true. Even an hour exposure to Carbon Monoxide levels of 50 to 90 parts per million can cause serious damage. See Weaver, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide Levels at Prussing Elementary Were Dangerous

The levels at the Prussing Elementary School appear to have been above 200 parts per million. Exposure to 100 parts per million for one hour can cause serious long term effects. In our experience with other carbon monoxide poisonings at schools, it is likely that most students at Prussing got exposed to such levels for more than an hour.  The onset of symptoms is so non-specific, basically masking the flu, that immediate response in absence of an alarm is unlikely. In Girard, Illinois, it took 90 minutes before the school was evacuated and then it was done piecemeal, not by use of the fire alarm. Accounts indicate that the children at Prussing Elementary entered the school no later than 8:15 a.m. and that they weren’t evacuated until as late as 10 a.m. Again, as in Girard, the fire alarm was not used to get children out immediately.

Now Likely too Late for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

There is important therapy for carbon monoxide poisoning, which clearly makes a difference in outcomes. That is hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Done acutely, it makes a major difference in outcome. What is remarkable about the accounts of the treatment that was done at Prussing Elementary School is that not all symptomatic students were taken to hospitals. Several accounts indicated that children were taken into ambulances, given oxygen and then released. Everyone who was at all symptomatic should have been taken to a hospital and given a blood test to determine the level of carbon monoxide in his or her blood. (The lab report would indicate a level of COHb, by a number.)

The accounts of EMT’s giving oxygen and then releasing the children would explain why only a small percentage of the 650 students at the school were transported to the hospital, even though it is likely that most students got comparable exposures to carbon monoxide.  Many students who were not taken to the hospital could suffer long term effects of this carbon monoxide exposure.

Prussing Elementary School Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon Monoxide in Schools

Prussing Elementary Announcement

Time to Put Carbon Monoxide Detectors Where People Are


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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