ATLANTA (AP) — It's odorless, colorless and deadly. And if carbon monoxide is leaking in a school, it might not be detected until people are ill.
A leak at an Atlanta elementary school that sent 42 students and seven adults to hospitals had school officials considering whether to install carbon monoxide detectors, a possibly life-saving move that is only required in a handful of states.
The detectors are not required in schools by law in Georgia and other states. Connecticut requires them in schools, while Maryland requires them in newly built and remodeled schools. Building codes and local rules can require them in schools elsewhere. When properly installed, the detectors give a warning when carbon monoxide reaches unsafe levels.
"To me, it's somewhat of a no-brainer in the sense that you've got fire alarms," said Doug Farquhar, program director for environmental health at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "There's no school in the country that's going to open unless there's a fire alarm system. Why not add carbon monoxide?"
The leak in Atlanta proved serious but not fatal. Superintendent Erroll Davis credited officials at Finch Elementary School with quickly evacuating the school after children started getting sick. The kids are attending classes at a nearby middle school until the problem is fixed. Fire department officials Tuesday said the school is not allowed to reopen until a deficient boiler system is inspected and certified.
Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of combustion, was discovered at unsafe levels near a school furnace. When it builds up in enclosed spaces, people exposed to the gas can experience headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea and confusion, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Inhaling high levels of the gas can eventually cause loss of consciousness and even death. The poisoning can be difficult for doctor to diagnose since its symptoms mirror those of other ailments.
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