School Carbon Monoxide Alarms – Does Yours Have One?
School carbon monoxide alarms must be required in all school buildings as the risk of hundreds of children getting poisoned by one faulty appliance continues.
By Attorney Gordon Johnson
When I first started blogging about carbon monoxide poisoning a decade ago, I had a theme: Carbon monoxide detectors had to be where the people were, to make sure that someone heard the alarm. It was a simple theme, one that sprung out of the first major CO case that the Brain Injury Law Group handled, a hotel poisoning case at a Day’s Inn in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In that case there was one carbon monoxide detector in the hotel, in a large concrete bunker kind of basement where the boilers that heated the hotel and the hot water used for showers and laundry were located.  It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized that school carbon monoxide alarms weren’t the norm.
Our point a decade ago was that even if an alarm had gone off in the middle of the night when our clients got sick, it is unlikely anyone would have heard it because the boiler room was a soundproof room, distant from the front desk. In this hotel, like almost every 100 room hotel I have ever been in, at 3 a.m. there will only be one person working in the hotel, a front desk attendant. The chances of the front desk person hearing a single alarm contained in a concrete basement, are slim. Put the alarms where people will hear them.
In 2012, I advocated that carbon monoxide detectors must be in the rooms where people are sleeping. While those words are still as true today, a decade of carbon monoxide advocacy has taught me several additional lessons about where alarms need to be. Carbon monoxide detectors must be:
- In all schools;
- In all office buildings;
- In all commercial buildings;
- In essentially all rooms of any indoor space, everywhere.
I will start with how I learned this lesson about schools. In later blogs I will address carbon monoxide detectors in office buildings, carbon monoxide detectors in other commercial buildings and the need to have detectors indoor space, away from where the fuel burning appliances are.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors in Schools.
North Mac Middle School Poisoning.
In September of 2014, more than 150 children and teachers were poisoned at the North Mac Middle School in Girard, Illinois. Nearly every one of these survivors were transported to area hospitals and diagnosed clinically with carbon monoxide poisoning. There were not detectors in that school. Litigation for more than 20 survivors of this poisoning is ongoing.
As a result of the lawsuit that the Brain Injury Law Group and the Nolan Law Group filed, and the advocacy of the parents and teachers at North Mac, the Illinois legislature passed a carbon monoxide detector law for all schools, with an effective date of January 1, 2016.
Prussing Elementary School Poisoning.
On October 30, 2015, 62 days before the effective date of the new carbon monoxide detector law in Illinois, another 100 children and adults were poisoned at the Prussing Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois. Our firm, together with the Nolan Law Group, filed a lawsuit for some of those children the next week. In addition, we talked to reporters about these two poisonings. https://www.cbsnews.com/chicago/news/parents-file-lawsuit-after-of-kids-sickened-by-carbon-monoxide-at-prussing-school/ As a result of the storm of publicity, the City of Chicago Board of Education made detectors a priority and placed detectors in all schools over the next few weeks.
Horace Mann Middle School.
On December 3, 2015, 28 days before the effective date of the new law, there was a third Illinois school poisoning at the Horace Mann Middle School in Chicago. This time, the alarms went off and while the Chicago Public Schools response wasn’t ideal, we felt there was no need for us to file a third school poisoning lawsuit. As stated then:
A day after CPS officials said that the installation of approximately 5,900 carbon monoxide detectors at schools citywide was complete, the alarms went off at a South Side elementary school alerting officials to the presence of the poisonous gas.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool ordered detectors to be installed in all schools after the noxious gas seeped into a Jefferson Park school (Prussing) and sickened approximately 89 teachers and students. See https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20151203/jefferson-park/5900-carbon-monoxide-detectors-installed-across-city-cps-officials-say/
Trial lawyers are convenient targets of right wing politicians but no one can argue that our lawsuits, and the publicity and advocacy that they engendered, made a difference for a school full of children. Having carbon monoxide detectors and an impending law to require them, made a difference. The carbon monoxide detectors were installed just in time, 24 hours before the carbon monoxide poisoning.
School Carbon Monoxide Alarms Still Not Universally Required
Not all states currently require CO detectors in school, including Wisconsin, but survivors of carbon monoxide poisoning are now leading efforts to get that changed in Wisconsin. https://www.postcrescent.com/story/news/education/2022/06/20/appleton-schools-add-carbon-monoxide-detectors-following-moms-plea/7555000001/
If your state doesn’t have such a law, contact your legislators and public officials to get such a law passed. Over a period of years, it will become code for all public buildings, but as the Horace Mann story shows, years is too long to wait. Ask the principal of your child’s school whether detectors are in every classroom. If they are not, make some noise. Get parents together and make more noise and if necessary, raise the funds to have them there.
The consequences of brain damage after carbon monoxide poisoning can last a lifetime. The children poisoned in the North Mac and Prussing schools are still suffering the effects. Do not let this happen to your children. Tomorrow is not too soon to demand a difference.
Next week: Carbon monoxide poisoning in office buildings and other commercial buildings.
 There was conflicting evidence as to whether the batteries had been removed from this detector.
Leave a ReplyWant to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!