By Andy Sevilla
Within a few hours of each other, one man died and another was seriously injured in San Marcos due to unrelated suspected carbon monoxide poisonings.
Just before 4 p.m. July 29, San Marcos firefighters recovered the body of a Texas Parks and Wildlife employee who was reportedly found unconscious while working in an underground chamber at a fish hatchery.
Robert Paul Schmid II, who managed the A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery in San Marcos, was pronounced dead after being found unresponsive in an underground chamber about 15 feet below the surface.
Authorities said Schmid had been working on the hatchery’s pump system when it appears he was overcome by carbon monoxide from a gas-powered pump, according to San Marcos Fire Marshal Ken Bell.
Air monitoring tests showed high levels of carbon monoxide in the chamber, exceeding five times the permissible exposure limit, Bell said in a statement.
Hours later, at about 1:25 a.m. July 30, a second incident involving a construction worker who also may have been overcome by carbon monoxide at a work site at 102 Wonder World Drive was reported.
The male victim in that case, a concrete construction worker who authorities have not publicly identified, was transported by ambulance to a San Antonio hospital where he underwent treatment in a hyperbaric chamber.
San Marcos officials said Tuesday the victim had been released from the hospital.
When the fire department and EMS arrived to a nail spa in The Village at Park South shopping center at Wonder World Drive, first responders found the worker had been exposed to large amounts of carbon monoxide, according to a city statement.
“In this second incident, carbon monoxide measurements were well above the OSHA standards for exposure to such a gas, almost three times the maximum level authorized,” Bell said.
The worker was using a concrete saw indoors without proper ventilation, Bell said. A nearby store had to be ventilated after officials found it too was filled with the poisonous gas from the construction.
The contractor was working late at night and into the early morning hours to avoid traffic to neighboring businesses, San Marcos spokesperson Melissa Millecam said.
Carbon monoxide is a common industrial hazard, which results from the incomplete burning of natural gas and any other material containing carbon such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal or wood, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). One of the most common sources of exposure in the workplace is the internal combustion engine, the federal agency states in its fact sheet.
The San Marcos Police and Fire Marshal’s office, in conjunction with state and federal agencies, are continuing their investigations into both incidents.
“Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer,” Bell said, “we want to re-emphasize these dangers in the light of two exposure cases in the last day. People tend to forget the danger associated with this deadly gas in small spaces.”
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that cannot be detected without special equipment, Bell said.
While carbon monoxide concerns usually arise in the winter months where heaters and fireplaces are used in enclosed spaces, Bell said general awareness and good ventilation prevent most dangers associated with the deadly gas.
What can you do if you suspect CO poisoning?
When you suspect CO poisoning, promptly taking the following actions can save lives:
• Move the victim immediately to fresh air in an open area.
• Call 911 for medical attention or assistance.
• Administer 100-percent oxygen using a tight-fitting mask if the victim is breathing.
• Administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if the victim has stopped breathing.
* Warning: You may be exposed to fatal levels of CO poisoning in a rescue attempt. Rescuers should be skilled at performing recovery operations and using recovery equipment. Employers should make sure that rescuers are not exposed to dangerous CO levels when performing rescue operations.
Source: OSHA Fact Sheet