Students moved to another school after CO leak

by: web staff Updated:


ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News has confirmed state inspectors are now focusing on the Finch Elementary School's boiler as the source of a carbon monoxide leak that sent more than 50 students and adults to the hospital Monday.

According to officials from Grady Memorial Hospital, one adult was being held for observation at the hospital Monday night while another has been sent to another hospital for hyperbaric treatment.

In total, 10 adults were taken to Grady Monday morning with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and more than 40 students were taken to Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding.

The Atlanta Fire Department said they were called to the school around 8:30 a.m. Monday and started evacuating about 500 students to a nearby middle school.

Firefighters said the levels were so high that a person could pass out within seconds. Investigators said they were focusing on the school's boiler as the source for the leak.

"My teacher was talking about the projects, then we passed out," said 7-year-old student Jacobi Lyons.

"When I came back to school there's kids laying on the floor," parent Shanterrian Simmons said.

In all, Atlanta fire rescue said 43 students were transported to the hospital. A triage unit was set up on the sidewalk outside of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding.

Some patients, no matter their age, were visibly shaken.

School officials confirmed late Monday night that classes for Finch Elementary were going to be held at Kennedy Middle School Tuesday.

That building is located at 225 James P. Brawley Dr. in Atlanta.

Officials said student who normally take the bus to school will be taken directly to Kennedy Middle. For those who walk, buses will be waiting for them at Finch Elementary where they will then transport them to Kennedy Middle. Those buses will be running from 7:30 a.m. – 8 a.m.

At time of dismissal, those who walk will be taken back to Finch Elementary where they can walk home from there.

Inspection shows no problems

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant obtained a copy of the boiler's last inspection report after spending all day tracking down district and state leaders trying to get a better sense of how those big gas boilers are inspected and maintained and whether there was any warning Monday's failure at Finch was imminent.

At an afternoon news conference, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis confirmed the district is zeroing in on the source of the carbon monoxide leak which sent more than 40 students to the hospital.

"We suspect that the issue started with the boiler in the building," Davis said.

State inspectors now going over every inch of that boiler system built in 2004, looking for what went wrong.

"We have to look at exactly what happened to this boiler. If it's something that's very unique, might be something before or after the boiler as well," Davis said.

By law, boilers in schools must be inspected every two years.

The inspection from November 2011 showed the boiler passed. Inspectors noted "no adverse conditions."

After the news conference Diamant caught up with the district's facilities director Alvah Hardy.

"Do we have a sense of what failed yet at this point?" Diamant asked Hardy.

"No. They're investigating that now as we speak," Hardy answered.

Diamant learned inspectors were looking into whether a bad valve may be to blame.

Meantime, Diamant asked Hardy whether there are plans to inspect boilers at any other schools as a result of Monday's leak.

"We have hundreds of boilers operating every day, and when we find out what the specifics were with this one, if it looks like it's something that would be a repetitive event, we would go out and address it," Hardy said.

Lawmakers surprised school had no detectors

Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens told Channel 2 Action News Monday, his inspectors are looking at whether the boiler was properly vented.

He said it's possible the vent may have been misaligned sending carbon monoxide into the school.

Hudgens also told Channel 2's Mark Winne he was shocked to learn the school had no carbon monoxide detectors in the building.

Other lawmakers were stunned as well when learning that news.

"No cost is too much when it comes to saving lives," said State Sen. Gloria Butler, D- DeKalb/Gwinnett counties.

Davis said the school district is discussing the detectors as well.

"There are no carbon monoxide detectors and yes, we've already had that discussion on whether we should put them in the schools," Davis said.

Hudgens said he found out there's no regulation saying school need to have carbon monoxide detectors installed.

"I found out they're not required," Hudgens said.

Hudgens said after Monday's events, he wants to insure that the Georgia legislature takes a hard look at whether state law should require carbon monoxide detectors in schools as well as nursing homes and possibly other commercial buildings.

"It's called a silent killer," Hudgens said.

He said state law and current national standards don't require CO detectors in schools, but the Finch incident may factor into whether national authorities reconsider.

"I guess you could say we're not very smart if we don't learn from our mistakes and this definitely (is) something, something is wrong," Hudgens said.

Hudgens said he'll seek a joint state House and Senate study committee on the issue.

Butler said it's something she going to look into as well.

"It's on my agenda to take a look to see how school systems could afford to require carbon monoxide detectors," Butler said.

Butler said she's pushed in the past for requirements to have CO detectors in certain new-home construction and is searching now for a solution to the school situation.

She told Winne she expects cost will be a key issue for many.

"They could be battery operated. I have one in my home," Butler said.

Hudgens said recent advancements in CO detectors may make putting them in schools more financially attractive.

"Depending on how many we chose to put in at each school, I don't see this as being a tremendously large expense," Davis said.

Winne found normal in home carbon monoxide detectors cost about $20.

He found a combination smoke and fire alarm for about $50.

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