It’s colorless, odorless, tasteless, and it can be deadly.
Every year, accidental exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) sends 15,000 people to emergency rooms across the country, and 500 people die from it. These accidents happen everywhere, including schools.
An incident at an Atlanta elementary school in early December reminded me of the dangers of this gas, which took the lives of two of my relatives in 2009. It prompted me to draft legislation that would require CO alarms in all Pennsylvania schools, both private and public, with heating systems or appliances powered by fossil fuels.
A potentially deadly buildup of CO inside Finch Elementary sent more than 50 people to hospitals, including 42 students. Fortunately, all of them are expected to recover.
The incident could have been prevented easily if the school was equipped with CO alarms. However, schools equipped with these alarms are the exception, not the rule, in the United States. Only two states, Connecticut and Maryland, require CO alarms in their schools. Pennsylvania should become the third state to have that law in place.
We have a number of older schools with aging heating systems that could malfunction, and leaks in school heating systems that lead to a buildup of CO aren’t uncommon. There have been at least 19 CO-related incidents at schools since 2007, causing at least 349 children and staff to be hospitalized, according to a USA Today report.
In 2011, about 40 students and faculty were sickened by carbon monoxide at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah. A carbon monoxide leak led to the evacuation of an elementary school in St. Paul, Minn., in 2010. Closer to home and more recently, higher-than-normal levels of carbon monoxide at an elementary school in Glen Rock, York County sickened dozens of people in September.
Let’s learn from these accidents and use CO alarms to help ensure a safer environment for Pennsylvania students and staff.
State Rep. Adam Ravenstahl is a Democrat who represents the 20th Legislative District that includes part of Pittsburgh, parts of Reserve and Ross townships and West View Borough.