By LIZZY MCLELLAN
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - A Maryland lawmaker wants to require the use of carbon monoxide detectors in all public schools following two leaks of the harmful gas in a Baltimore school last February.
Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, reintroduced a bill last week that would mandate installation of the detectors, which are currently absent from many Maryland schools.
Glenn first proposed the legislation in February in reaction to two carbon monoxide leaks which took place within one week at Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle School. Both leaks sent students to the hospital.
"I was stunned to learn that schools aren't required ... to have carbon monoxide detectors," said Glenn. "All of the schools in Baltimore city are old. Our heating and ventilation systems ... need to be monitored for carbon monoxide."
Glenn withdrew the original bill soon after its introduction last year so she could learn more about the issue.
Baltimore required all of its more than 200 public schools to install detectors following last year's leaks. The installation cost about $8,000 total, said Blaine Lipski, head of the Department of Facility Maintenance and Operations for Baltimore City Public Schools.
Lipski said that while the mandate was initially meant as a way to ease the public conscience following an "isolated incident," it will ultimately be a useful safeguard for staff and students. Many schools in other areas, including Carroll, Harford and Prince George's Counties, still lack this safeguard.
Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen H. Guthrie called the proposed legislation "an expense for us that would be unnecessary," and said the issue should be left up to local officials. He said funding would be better spent on school roofs and upgrading HVAC systems.
Guthrie said that each Carroll County public school has an Air Quality Team in place to stay on top of all sorts of air quality issues. He said that Carroll County is already covering its bases in terms of preventing carbon monoxide issues in schools.
"This would appear to be another unfunded mandate," Guthrie said. "I would rather spend my money on preventative measures than on detection. I’m not sure if incidents at one school warrant making a precedent with statewide legislation."
Because carbon monoxide is odorless, a leak can easily go unnoticed until occupants of a building begin to experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, which include nausea, headaches and dizziness. Inhalation of too much carbon monoxide can be deadly.
Carbon monoxide leaks are not a common occurrence in schools, but have the potential to take place in any building with equipment that burns fossil fuels, said Bruce Bouch, director of public education for the Maryland Fire Marshal. Dangerous leaks are more likely in older schools, he added.
Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed a $373 million investment in school construction last week as part of an ongoing effort to modernize Maryland schools.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Connecticut is the only state that currently requires carbon monoxide detectors in schools. The law went into effect in July 2011 following a leak at an elementary school in which 30 students experienced symptoms.
Glenn said that protection of children from this "silent killer" can no longer be optional.
"We don't want to react to some child dying," said Glenn. "We want to be proactive."
Local Editor Kym Byrnes contributed to this story.