>> FACT: A BUILDING DOES NOT HAVE TO HAVE GAS OR FUEL-FIRED APPLIANCES TO BE EXPOSED TO CARBON MONOXIDE

WHAT IS CARBON MONOXIDE

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by a burning fuel source. Improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in a tightly sealed or enclosed space, may allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous levels.

 

Carbon monoxide in the air rapidly enters all parts of the body, including blood, brain, heart, and muscles when you breathe.

 

The carbon monoxide in your body leaves through your lungs when you breathe out (exhale), but there is a delay in eliminating carbon monoxide.

INTERNAL + EXTERNAL SOURCES OF CARBON
MONOXIDE FOUND IN SCHOOLS + DAYCARES

Examples of carbon monoxide sources found in school district buildings include, but are not limited to the following: 

  • Fuel-fired heating systems such as: leaking/backdrafting furnaces, boilers, heating/ventilating units, makeup air units including roof top or ground mounted units;

  • Permanent or portable emergency generators within or immediately surrounding the building;

  • Fuel fired kitchen equipment such as:  ranges, ovens, steamers, dishwashers;

  • Fuel fired domestic hot water heaters, dryers;

  • Lab/shop/class-specific equipment such as: gas outlets (science rooms), torches (welding shop or maintenance areas), gas fired kilns (art rooms), and stationary or portable engines (auto shop); and

  • Maintenance operations (propane powered floor machines and polishers, lift trucks, school buses/school vehicle maintenance shops that are attached or unattached)

  • Exhaust fumes related to school traffic (idling bus and vehicle pickup lines)

WHO CAN BE IMPACTED BY THESE SOURCES AT SCHOOLS + DAYCARES

• Students (all students are considered high-risk due to their developing/maturing respiratory systems)

• Regular, on-site staff, teachers and faculty members

• Maintenance staff regularly exposed to CO in their work roles

• Cleaning or construction crews on-site during off hours

• Emergency services and resource officers responding to incidents at schools

• Members of the public or community on site of schools for school-related, civic and recreational events

>> FACT: AT THIS TIME, EDUCATORS + FACULTY IN VIRGINIA ARE

NOT REQUIRED TO COMPLETE ANY KIND OF CARBON MONOXIDE AWARENESS, PREVENTION OR SITUATIONAL TRAINING.

 

CLASSIC SYMPTOMS OF ACUTE CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING
  • Common Mild Exposure

    •  Slight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, flu-like symptoms

  • Common Medium Exposure 

    • Throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate

  • Common Extreme Exposure 

    • Convulsions, unconsciousness, brain damage, heart and lung failure, followed by death

  • Acute CO Poisoning occurs with high-level exposure and requires immediate medical intervention. People may have irreversible brain damage or even die before anyone realizes there's a problem.
PRESENTATION OF CHRONIC CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING
  • Behavior changes and mood disorders

  • Recurring + unexplained illnesses

  • Lung, heart and brain damage

  • Body system interference

  • Symptoms related to toxin poisoning

  • While victims of chronic CO poisoning are not at risk of immediate death, they will often face long-term health issues (often unexplained or misdiagnosed) during or after continued exposure.

>> FACT: MOST SCHOOL EMPLOYEES DO NOT UNDERSTAND KEY DIFFERENCES IN HOW CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS WORK, WHEN THEY ALERT, AND HOW THEY SHOULD BE INCORPORATED INTO THEIR BUILDINGS BASED ON THEIR UNIQUE LAYOUT & RISK FACTORS

 

UNDERSTANDING CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS
  • All CO alerting systems should have a a battery backup (even if it plugs into wall) and be tested weekly or monthly – not annually.​

  •  The indoor Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) to CO varies from state to state. OSHA in Virginia has an Indoor PEL of 55 ppm averaged over an 8 hour workday.

  • Most standard, residential alarms WILL NOT alert until a PEL of 70 is reached, and the alarm will not sound until after 60 - 240 minutes, based on manufacturer settings. This means these are LOW-SENSITIVITY detectors – in otherwords, it will take a lot of CO over an extended period of time to alert to an issue. This means there is a false sense of security as it relates to standard Carbon Monoxide Detectors on the market today and the public's understanding of them.

  • Standard, low-sensitivity residential CO detectors are Life-Saving devices only. They do not alert at the first signs or low-output levels of CO exposure. These type of detectors are recommended for homes or small spaces only – not industrial or educational facility sites. They should be BACKUPS to your high-sensitivity detectors or integrated, hardwired detection and notification systems. There is always a possibility of malfunction, which is why users should recognize the symptoms of CO, know the risks, and understand how to remove themselves from a CO situation.

  • High-sensitivity, plug in or battery operated CO detectors offer stronger, earlier protection against CO. While they can't prevent CO poisoning, they can alert occupants to CO dangers before these dangers become life-threatening. These are HEALTH-SAVING devices as they alert to lower levels of CO, earlier and are "highly-sensitive."

  • Carbon monoxide detectors should not be placed in areas where people can't heart them. Meaning, don't stick them in a boiler room if no one actually goes into or is in proximity to the boiler room. 

  • Organizations like National Carbon Monoxide Awareness Association (NCOAA) are diligently advocating for adjustments to the alert level requirements related to standard detectors being sold on the market, as well as working with organizations such as the Portable Generator Manufacturers Association to include auto-cutoff switches on fuel burning appliances sold to consumers

WHAT LEVEL OF CO PROTECTION CAN BE OFFERED AT SCHOOLS?

Due to the age, wiring and budgets of individual systems, schools and buildings, protection can't always be one size fits all. But there should be SOME FORM of mandated protection on site.

Bare minimum level of protection:

At least one standard, low-sensitivity "life saving" plug-in detector (with battery backup) at each school site in designated detection zones

Basic level of protection:

​At least one high-sensitivity "health-saving", low-level plug in detector (with battery backup) at each school site in a designated "CO detection zone"

"Taking this Seriously" level of protection:

A highly sensitive, "health-saving", low-level plug in detector (with battery backup) in each classroom/area that are at high-risk detection zones (next to fuel source, next to idling traffic, community gathering spaces); standard devices in all other classrooms/gathering spaces

Best level of protection:

Hard-wired, fully integrated detection system that immediately alerts emergency personnel to an issue at your location (age of certain buildings may prevent this from happening); PLUS a health-saving, low-level plug in detector (with battery backup) in high-risk detection zones in case hard-wire system should fail

>> FACT: CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING IS ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE ...

 

WHEN STAKEHOLDERS ARE EDUCATED, RISK MANAGERS ARE ASSIGNED, MAINTENANCE PERSONNEL ARE FULLY TRAINED, BUILDINGS ARE PROTECTED, AND INSPECTIONS & TESTING ARE OCCURRING REGULARLY.

 

KEY STEPS TO PREVENTING CARBON MONOXIDE INCIDENTS IN SCHOOLS

  • Map school district’s buildings to identify the presence of any equipment or situation that has the potential of producing carbon monoxide. Label specific areas within buildings as "high-risk detection zones" where CO detectors would be recommended in lieu of hard-wired systems.

  • If the schools age or budget constraints prevent it from being fitted with an integrated alert and emergency notification system, install high-quality carbon monoxide detection devices (in classrooms, gathering spaces and offices, + especially near fuel-fired appliances) that can alert at health-protection levels.

  • Schedule frequent, regular inspections and preventive maintenance of all fuel burning equipment.

  • Test carbon monoxide detection systems at frequent intervals – replacing batteries, ensuring audibility, and ensuring working outlets.

  • Prohibit vehicles from idling close to school buildings or in garages.

  • Ensure that fuel-powered outdoor equipment is not used close to the building’s exhaust or air-intake systems.

  • Equip maintenance departments with good quality carbon monoxide sensors they can wear or carry on their maintenance bag.

  • Follow legal guidance and manufacturer’s recommendations for selection, installation, operation and maintenance of any and all equipment and appliances.

  • Immediately report burning or exhaust type smells as well as gas smells. School maintenance, the gas company, or the fire department need to check out the situation at once.

IS CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING REALLY AN ISSUE IN SCHOOLS?
ABOUT VIRGINIA SCHOOLS AND HOW MANY ARE AT RISK

The Virginia Public School System:

  • 17th largest school system in the United States – made up of 8 regions, 133 divisions

  • Serving 1,288,374 students across the 2,161 public schools for the 2020 school year

  • One of the highest concentrations of military families enrollment in the nation 

 

>> The numbers above do not include children enrolled in daycare, charter or private school educational facilities.

 

>> The numbers above do not include the educators + faculty serving in daycare, charter, public or private schools

WHAT CHALLENGES ARE WE UP AGAINST IN VIRGINIA

NO TRANSPARENCY – There isn't one place where we can easily view what schools do and do not have fuel-fired appliances + CO Detectors without speaking to each facility independently; don't know of requirements + resources for maintenance staff

FUNDING CONCERNS - We need to explore all aspects here related to grants, partnerships, unfunded mandates, etc.

• IMPLEMENTATION OF SAFETY MEASURES - Mandatory implementation outright, or phased approach by building age/need, or by age of student population?

EDUCATION + TRAINING - Will this be built into required modules (like CPR, Harassment) or is there an alternative here in terms of educational + safety partnerships, etc. in form of accessible website?

ACCOUNTABILITY - Everyone is saying it's not their problem, but it's everyone's problem (and responsibility).