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School carbon monoxide detectors eyed

There have been nearly 20 evacuations recently. N.J. does not require the devices.

NEPTUNE, N.J. - In the wake of recent evacuations of thousands of students nationwide, a New Jersey schools group wants to mandate carbon monoxide detectors in schools.

New Jersey School Buildings and Grounds Association officials, as well as some local fire officials, say schools would be safer if required to have the alarms. There have been nearly 20 evacuation incidents involving high levels of carbon monoxide in U.S. schools in recent years, but the devices are not required in New Jersey school buildings.

"Some [New Jersey] schools do have them; unfortunately, some others do not," said Charlie Miele, executive director of the New Jersey School Buildings and Grounds Association. "Should they all have them? Yes."

The association is planning to write state legislators, pressing for the change in law. Only Connecticut and Maryland have laws requiring such alarms in schools.

Since 2007, more than 3,000 students have had to evacuate schools in at least 19 incidents of high levels of carbon monoxide, according to USA Today. Among them, about 550 people, including children carried to ambulances with oxygen masks over their faces, were evacuated from Finch Elementary School in Atlanta last week.

At least 49 were hospitalized in that evacuation. The school had no carbon monoxide alarms.

Steve Berlin Sr., a spokesman for the National Association of State Boards of Education, says carbon monoxide poisoning or installing alarms to detect dangerous levels are "not something we have looked at."

Many schools in New Jersey operated on generators, which emit carbon monoxide, in the days following Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent nor'easter that downed power grids for weeks in some areas.

Generators - as well as automobiles and boilers for hot-water heaters - also can produce potentially deadly carbon monoxide.

Often called "the silent killer," carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless toxic gas produced by incomplete combustion in fuel-burning devices such as furnaces.

The state Department of Education does not track how many districts have the devices, spokesman Richard Vespucci said.

The state Division of Fire Safety, which is within the Department of Community Affairs, was unavailable for comment.

Chris Brown, facilities manager at Colts Neck Township School District, said the district does not have the alarms, as boiler rooms are sealed off from the main building and the boilers are equipped with ventilation systems. The boilers do not fire unless a safety switch ensures a wall of louvers is open and ventilating, Brown said.

But dangerous carbon monoxide can be emitted from a malfunction, Miele said.

Avon School Superintendent Christopher Albrizio said his one-school district does not have the devices because they were not required, but school officials will reconsider purchasing alarms.

Albrizio said his fire security company has recommended that the devices be installed anywhere combustion might occur, such as in or around boiler rooms and adjacent hallways. He said he was waiting on a cost estimate.

"It's certainly possible, but is it feasible?" Albrizio said. "It could be anywhere from $250 to $300 for the device, plus the labor. But clearly, some recent events have made us all consider what we can do."