Target 8: MO Law Doesn\'t Require CO Detectors in Schools

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JEFFERSON CITY - In December 2012, more than 40 elementary school students went to the hospital because of a carbon monoxide leak in the building. It happened in Atlanta, Georgia in a school with no CO detectors. Turns out the state of Georgia doesn't require detectors in schools. KOMU 8 found Missouri also does not require CO detectors in school buildings.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that kills by robbing the body's ability to process oxygen.

"The thing that kills people during fires is CO. They don't wake up," said James Weaver, Battalion Chief for the Columbia Fire Department.

To protect yourself, you probably have a detector in your home. When the level of CO in the air is too concentrated and dangerous to breath, the alarm goes off to warn you.

"It's not something that alerts us from the smell or the taste and so we don't wake up, that detector then is that alert," Weaver said.

At this time, Missouri law only requires CO detectors in a handful of buildings housing children.

"The state only requires them in daycares at this time," Weaver said.

He said that's because children sleep in those buildings. However, when it comes to school buildings there's no law requiring detectors even though schools have stoves, furnaces and other devices that produce CO.

"Just like smoke detectors, it probably should be in the codes," said Bob Weber, the director of facilities for Jefferson City Public Schools. "CO is a silent killer, it kind of overwhelms you before you know what's happened."

While CO leaks in schools are possible, Weaver added it's less likely to make people sick there.

"The exhaust systems that they put into schools are very effective. The buildings aren't nearly as tight as say a residence," he said.

Even though current codes don't require CO detectors in schools, many districts in our viewing area voluntarily installed the devices like the two largest districts - Columbia Public Schools and Jefferson City Public Schools.

"I don't think we think of it as a requirement or not a requirement. I think it was just something we did because we felt it was important," said Columbia Public Schools spokesperson Michelle Baumstark.

CPS puts the detectors in its buildings that have gas heat. JCPS recently upgraded its detectors and installed around 40 new ones across the district near kitchens and boiler rooms.

KOMU 8 also checked in with 12 other schools in the viewing area. Of those schools, 10 put in the CO detectors despite having no requirement by law to do so. Those districts include: Blair Oaks, Boonville, Brunswick, California, Centralia, Hallsville, Mexico, Moberly, South Callaway and Sturgeon. The two school without detectors? Fulton and Southern Boone.

Fulton Public Schools Superintendent Jacque Cowherd said the district follows city codes and the current codes don't require detectors. He said the district's heating systems have alarms for when they malfunction, but nothing that measures CO. He added the district relies on air flow.

"We added units to it for air quality and air circulation. We do air tests periodically," Cowherd said.

But he said he's always open to taking more precautions.

"We would definitely consider taking a look at those," Cowherd said. "Are we doing what we can to keep kids safe? I think we are."

In the case of Southern Boone County schools, Superintendent Charlotte Miller refused an on-camera interview with KOMU 8 about why the district doesn't have detectors in all school buildings, saying she didn't have time to discuss the topic. So, KOMU 8 reached out to the school board.

School board member Joe Miller said at this point the district doesn't require detectors, but after learning of KOMU 8's report he said the board plans to discuss the use of detectors at its next meeting.

"We want to make sure our students are safe so that's definitely something we will be looking into," Miller said.

While chances of a large CO leak poisoning students are slim, they do happen, like the incident in Atlanta. In response to that, a Georgia lawmaker introduced a bill in January that would require all Georgia schools to install detectors.

For now, the majority of the school districts in mid-Missouri are taking the safer route and installing the detectors without a law telling them to do so. Some districts are required to install the detectors by their insurance companies.

The cost of CO detectors ranges from $15 to several hundreds of dollars for a commercial one.