Sophie Sonnenfeld, Contributing Photographer

Fourteen people were hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning on Wednesday morning following a construction-site gas leak at 73 Howe St. Emergency responders determined that the Yale-hired construction firm, Babbidge Construction Company, had not been using carbon monoxide detectors.

The carbon monoxide exposure originated from a propane-powered concrete cutter being used at the construction site, according to University spokesperson Karen Peart. New Haven Fire Department Chief John Alston explained that the cold temperatures outside might have affected ventilation in the building, potentially exacerbating the effects of the leak.

Emergency responders were first called to the scene around 7:35 a.m. after a construction worker fainted on the sidewalk near Howe Street. The unconscious worker was transported to Yale New Haven Hospital. After being notified of the worker’s exposure to carbon monoxide, the fire department and American Medical Response reported back to the building to check for a gas leak. 

New Haven Emergency Operations Director Rick Fontana shared that emergency responders detected around 350 parts per million of carbon monoxide at the construction site. Standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Association prohibit worker exposure to more than 50 ppm averaged over an eight-hour time frame. 

In an interview with the New Haven Independent, Mayor Justin Elicker said that carbon monoxide monitors “should have been used.”

According to Yale Police Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09, Yale is currently leasing the space at 73 Howe St. from the city. The New Haven Independent reported that the University had hired Babbidge Construction Company to run construction at the site. According to New Haven Fire Chief John Alston, the site did not have CO monitors installed — which, according to Peart, was the responsibility of the construction company.

Babbidge Construction Company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Campbell also told the News that emergency service workers also investigated the neighboring 79 Howe St. and 32 Edgewood Ave., which house the Yale Security Department and the Yale School of Art Gallery. According to Peart, 79 Howe St. was evacuated.

Sources interviewed by the News disagreed on the affiliations of the 14 hospitalized individuals. In a statement to News 8 WTNH, Elicker said that four individuals were Yale Security employees and the remaining ten were contractors. However, Peart wrote in a message to the News that five were Yale Security employees, while only nine were affiliated with Babbdige.

The worker initially found unconscious was transported to a hyperbaric chamber at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. He was still in critical condition as of Wednesday night, according to Fontana.

A team from the Occupational Safety and Health Association, or OSHA, arrived at the scene on Wednesday to begin an investigation of the incident. Per OSHA policy, the agency has up to six months to complete the investigation and determine whether a violation of workers’ rights occurred.

Yale community members were notified of the incident through an email and text  from the Yale Alert System at 10:55 a.m., which stated that police and emergency personnel were actively responding to a “medical incident” near 73 Howe St. At 11:48 a.m., a second email from the alert system stated that the area surrounding 73 Howe St. was deemed all clear and had “opened to normal traffic.”

73 Howe St. is located between Edgewood Avenue and Chapel Street.

Correction, Jan. 18: A previous version of this article included one instance of “carbon dioxide” instead of “carbon monoxide,” which is the correct compound name. It has since been amended.

Natasha Khazzam covers housing and homelessness for city desk. She previously covered climate and the environment. Originally from Great Neck, New York, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history and English.
Ariela Lopez covers City Hall and City Politics. Originally from New York City, she is a first-year in Branford College.