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GCPS uses 'preventive maintenance' to monitor carbon monoxide

SUWANEE -- During a frightening moment for teachers and students Monday morning at an Atlanta elementary school, authorities transported more than 40 young people and seven adults to hospitals for breathing potentially lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.

After forcing more than 500 people to evacuate, firefighters found unsafe levels of the colorless, odorless gas near a furnace at the school.

As districts across the state, including Gwinnett County Public Schools, continually monitor buildings for such hazards, Georgia's Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said the incident in Atlanta should serve as a wake up call to prevent future tragedies.

"The only good side to this is that the matter has been brought to the forefront," Hudgens said. "When (firefighters) went into that boiler room with a detector, it was the highest concentration of the gas any of them had ever seen."

Hudgens said that while current codes do not require carbon monoxide monitors in public school buildings in the state of Georgia, it's a measure that he thinks should be given some discussion.

In the meantime, GCPS said it continually monitors facilities "to ensure things are in good operating order rather than being in reactive mode."

"If when our facilities staff are conducting their routine inspections they discover a concern they will use the detectors to check for issues," said Sloan Roach, district spokeswoman.

Roach said that "rather than letting things get broken or out of date and having to go in and fix them" the district uses a preventive maintenance program "that has served us well as a good approach to avoiding such situations."

Like many districts across the state, GCPS does not have carbon monoxide monitors. "It's not a standard in our schools," Roach said.

Hudgens said the local district indeed is not alone.

"There's only two states in the country that have recently enacted monitor requirements," Hudgens said. "It is required in Maryland and Connecticut, but in Georgia we have no regulation as far as in commercial buildings, and that includes schools."

Hudgens said he hopes to "take a good, hard look at this with the legislative session coming up. At a minimum, a study committee could be created to address this subject with the possibility to modify Georgia code to say you need them in schools, daycare facilities and nursing home and retirement communities."