Carbon monoxide detectors not required in schools - KCTV5

KCTV5 Investigates: Carbon monoxide detectors not required in schools

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FAIRWAY, KS (KCTV) -

The biggest danger facing students in Kansas and Missouri schools is not a mass shooting but the risk of accidental poisoning by carbon monoxide, a KCTV5 News investigation revealed.

Following the deadly school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, there's been a push by state and federal lawmakers alike to increase school security with guards and even armed teachers. KCTV5 discovered that without a state requirement for carbon monoxide detectors, students in Kansas and Missouri are much more likely to fall victim to this unseen gas which the Centers for Disease Control has dubbed "The Quiet Killer."

Every year, more than 450 people die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Another 20,000 people are seen at the hospital. In just the past three months, carbon monoxide leaks have made children sick and caused school evacuations in Atlanta, Nashville and the Kansas City area.

Scott Hendrick is program manager for the National Conference of State Legislatures. According to him, 21 schools have now been evacuated because of a carbon monoxide leak since 2007. Hendricks spoke to KCTV5 Investigative Reporter Stacey Cameron via satellite.

"How important is this for schools and states to look at their laws and regulations and potentially require them?" Cameron asked.

"Well, you know it's an issue," Hendrick responded. "There are just two states that have passed any law that would mandate carbon monoxide detectors in schools."

"Is either Missouri or Kansas on that list?" Cameron followed up.

"No, no," Hendrick said.

The lack of such a requirement is something fire chiefs like Ray Adams of the South Metropolitan Fire Protection District find difficult to understand. Adams places the need for CO detectors on par with smoke alarms and sprinkler systems.

"The nature of carbon monoxide - it's tasteless, it's odorless. You can't see it. You never know it's there until you start suffering symptoms from it or somebody monitors it," Adams said. "The only way you can detect the presence of carbon monoxide is through a detector."

Adams knows firsthand what can happen when a school operates without the rather simple device. Just last month, students and teachers at Timberlake Elementary in the Ray-Pec School District started complaining of headaches and nausea.

"The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning kind of mimic a lot of other things like flu, cold, things of that nature," Adams said.

In the middle of flu season, inside a school without detectors, no one thought to blame the illnesses on CO poisoning.

Luckily, a fire marshal happened to stop in for a regular inspection and detected the leak.

"That just happened to be the draw that day," Adams said.

At one point, the fire marshal was getting readings of 65 parts per million, which is significantly high. That discovery led Adams to evacuate the school and possibly divert a disaster.

This leaves many asking why CO detectors aren't required  in every school if they are so critical. Hendricks suggests money may be one reason.

"It's a tough time in terms of budgets for both states and schools," Hendrick said.

But cost didn't deter school leaders in Olathe, KS.

The school district's chief financial and operations officer, John Hutchison, said CO detectors were installed in Olathe schools 21 years ago.

"The district saw it as a growing safety concern," Hutchison said. "It's not that big of an investment. The devices are about $40 to $50 apiece."

Another reason why states like Kansas and Missouri don't require CO detectors is that most legislators have no idea the devices aren't already installed. Among them is Missouri State Rep. Rick Brattin. The Harrisonville, MO, Republican represents District 55, which just happens to include the Ray-Pec elementary school, which was evacuated in January.

"It actually is pretty shocking," Brattin said. "To be honest, I just assumed they were already there."

Barbara Bollier, a Republican who represents Kansas' House District 25, was also taken aback by the lack of requirements for CO detectors.

"I think this is certainly worth investigating," Bollier said.

After being alerted to the problem by KCTV5, both lawmakers said they'll work on their side of the state line to make CO detectors standard in all schools.

"Raising awareness of an issue gets everyone thinking and deciding, 'how can we best fix this problem, and quickly fix this?'" Bollier said.

"Something that's an easy fix; not having to go through a six-month process of legislation," Brattin said. "Just have it done now and not worry about all the red tape."

What Brattin and Bollier suggest is not a new law, but a rule or regulation put into place by each state's department of education. Something like that could get CO detectors in schools almost immediately.

The two states that do require CO detectors are Maryland and Connecticut. KCTV5 did find some schools in the Kansas City area using CO detectors, either because a city or county ordinance requires it or, like Olathe, the district made the decision on its own.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  All rights reserved.

  • KCTV5 Investigates: Carbon monoxide detectors not required in schoolsMore>>

  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors in Schools

    Carbon Monoxide Detectors in Schools

    Friday, February 15 2013 2:03 PM EST2013-02-15 19:03:02 GMT
    KCTV5 did find some schools in the Kansas City area using CO detectors, either because a city or county ordinance requires it or like Olathe, the district made the decision on its own. Here is that list. SCHOOLMore >
    KCTV5 did find some schools in the Kansas City area using CO detectors, either because a city or county ordinance requires it or like Olathe, the district made the decision on its own. Here is that list. SCHOOLMore >
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