SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two state lawmakers want to ensure all Utah schools have carbon monoxide monitors installed after a gas leak at a southern Utah elementary school last year sickened more than 40 people.
The November leak prompted concerns since Utah is among the many states that don't require carbon monoxide monitors in schools.
Salt Lake City Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis is sponsoring one of two bills pending in the Utah Legislature that would require all K-12 school buildings to install the monitors.
The devices would need to be placed in mechanical rooms near furnaces or water heaters and kitchen areas of buildings with gas appliances.
Carbon monoxide, an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas, is produced by combustion and can be found in fumes from vehicles, gas ranges and heating systems.
Symptoms of carbon-monoxide poisoning include headaches, nausea and weakness. Higher exposure levels can lead to unconsciousness and death. People who are asleep generally do not detect early symptoms, which can make their exposure fatal.
A Utah Senate committee voted 7-0 to approve Dabakis' bill Monday afternoon.
The bill advances to the full Senate. To become law, it must also be approved by a House committee and the full House.
Several lawmakers expressed concerns about the potential expense and told Dabakis they wanted to see a detailed cost estimate as the bill moves forward.
Utah's State Office of Education is still calculating the cost, Bruce Williams, the associate superintendent for business services and operations, told lawmakers.
Williams said the office estimates it will cost $2.8 million for the 1,000-plus Utah schools to adopt the detectors and their monitoring systems.
The office is estimating that each new device and required installation will cost about $200 to $250. For a large school district, it could be $200,000 to $300,000 total, Williams said.
The State Office of Education has not taken a position on the bill, Williams said, but noted the agency supports making schools safer.
Utah Fire Marshal Coy Porter said for districts that already have smoke alarms installed as part of monitored systems, it may be a relatively small cost to add the carbon monoxide monitors.
For schools with older systems, they might need additional work that will cost more.
Officials said it was too soon to say if all districts would be able to absorb those costs within their current budgets, or whether they'd need additional money.
Roger Evans, a building official with Park City, said the requirements in Dabakis' bill are being integrated in upcoming international building codes.
Utah, like other states and municipalities, adopts the code and would expect to see the changes anyway around 2016, Evans said.
"It will become part of state code if it goes through the normal process," Evans said. "This just pushes it up a couple of years."
Rep. Larry Wiley, a West Valley City Democrat, is sponsoring a measure parallel to Dabakis's proposal in the Utah House.
"We're both concerned," said Wiley, a building inspector. "We want this thing to pass the legislature and be implemented and hopefully take care of a problem that is preventable."
Wiley and Dabakis said the problem became clear after November's leak at Montezuma Creek Elementary, located on the Navajo reservation, about 15 miles from the Colorado border.
In addition to the dozens of students and staff who were taken to hospitals or received medical treatment, three people with more severe poisoning were airlifted to hospitals for treatment.
Porter said last year that, had the school installed carbon monoxide monitors, the building would have been evacuated before the gas was able to accumulate.
Porter said some Utah schools have installed the devices on their own because of local policies, but state law only requires the monitors in some residences and institutional buildings where people sleep, such as jails, hospitals and nursing homes.
Only Connecticut and Maryland require carbon monoxide monitors in schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
HB 107: http://1.usa.gov/1lXapdi
SB 58: http://1.usa.gov/1iS6pWg