Authorities in Massachusetts say a police officer was exposed to carbon monoxide gas while driving a Ford SUV police vehicle, possibly causing him to lose consciousness and rear-end another car.
The officer involved in the incident was hospitalized. The incident also prompted carbon monoxide testing for other members of the police force in Auburn, Massachusetts. By Wednesday night, two more officers were hospitalized.
The incident in Auburn, Massachusetts comes just days after the Austin, Texas police department removed more than 400 Ford Interceptor SUVs, a modified version of the Explorer, from its fleet after detecting potentially dangerous levels of the odorless gas inside its vehicles.
Ford said last week that the company had not found elevated levels of carbon monoxide in “regular” Ford Explorers.
Auburn Police Department Sgt. Scott Mills told CNN that carbon monoxide was detected in the officer’s bloodstream after the car crash. Carbon monoxide levels in his car also appeared elevated.
During a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Auburn Police Chief Andrew Sluckis said the officer involved in the collision was transported to a local hospital.
He said additional testing of various police Interceptor vehicles turned up some carbon monoxide readings “as high as 39 and 40.”
The Consumer Product Safety Commission says carbon monoxide becomes dangerous at levels over 15 parts per millions over a time span of eight hours, or 22 parts per million for an hour.
The police force has taken 10 of the department’s 28 vehicles out of service. The suspended vehicles are all modified Ford Explorers, the chief said.
Other police departments are following suit. The police department in Galveston, Texas, said it was pulling all 27 of its Ford Explorer SUVs so it can inspect them for possible carbon monoxide leaks.
Galveston Police Captain Joshua Schirard said Ford was flying two technicians to the area to help a Ford dealer inspect the vehicles.
The Auburn incident prompted local authorities to test the blood of every officer who recently drove one of those vehicles.
“As a result of that, a second officer tested positive for carbon monoxide, and he is currently at the hospital at this time as well,” Sluckis told reporters.
Sluckis added that while police look for a permanent solution, officers can drive “spare” cars that are used for tasks like road detail work.
And later Wednesday, the Auburn Police department said on Facebook that a third officer was admitted to the hospital for high carbon monoxide levels.
Ford said in a statement that it’s working with Auburn police “to inspect their vehicles and modifications made to them.”
However, Ford said linking Wednesday’s incident to a carbon monoxide leak would be “premature,” and experts are continuing to investigate.
After Austin police pulled all 446 of its SUVs off the road, Ford said it it will “cover the costs of specific repairs in every Police Interceptor Utility that may have carbon monoxide concerns. ”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also investigating and has been looking to determine how widespread issues with the Ford Explorer SUVs may be. The agency recently expanded its investigation into 1.3 million Explorers from model years 2011-2017. NHTSA says that more than 2,700 complaints have been filed by people who believe they’ve been exposed to carbon monoxide while in the vehicles.
Problems with carbon monoxide had plagued Ford police vehicles in Austin for more than five months, prompting dozens of workers’ comp reports. At least 20 Austin officers who were tested had measurable levels of carbon monoxide their their systems.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be deadly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is found in fumes produced by burning fuel in things like cars, trucks, stoves, lanterns, fireplaces and furnaces. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.