Lawrence school district investigating possible carbon monoxide exposure at elementary school
photo by: Mike Yoder
Updated at 2:42 p.m. Monday
The Lawrence school district is investigating possible carbon monoxide exposure at Kennedy Elementary School that may have affected the health of at least two staff members.
The two employees informed the district that they had tested positive for elevated carbon monoxide levels. As the district inspected Kennedy Elementary, 1605 Davis Road, it discovered that a natural gas hot water heater had not been venting properly. According to a news release Monday from district spokeswoman Julie Boyle, “a vent was covered during roofing repairs.”
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The news release did not say how long the vent had been covered or when the roofing repairs had been done, but in an email Monday in response to Journal-World questions, Boyle said staff was gathering records related to roof repairs and replacement and trying to determine how long the vent had been covered. Staff discovered the covered vent last week, she said, and testing conducted within 30 minutes of turning off the heater detected no carbon monoxide.
Boyle said that when the building was unoccupied over the weekend, the heater was turned back on for testing “and no carbon monoxide was detected.” She said that “as a precaution, we will keep that equipment off for the rest of the school year.”
The district, as well as Black Hills Energy, conducted several air quality tests in recent days and detected no carbon monoxide, Boyle said.
Carbon monoxide detectors have been installed throughout the part of the building that has natural gas water heaters, Boyle said in the news release. When asked when those had been installed, she said “last week as part of the investigation and to ensure the safety of areas near natural gas equipment.”
Carbon monoxide detectors, unlike smoke detectors, are not legally required in buildings in Kansas; however, they are recommended.
The City of Lawrence has “Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips” on its website. It notes that carbon monoxide, dubbed “the silent killer,” is an invisible, colorless, odorless gas that kills more than 500 people a year and sends 15,000 people to emergency rooms.
The gas enters the body through breathing and “CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness or headaches. High levels of CO can be fatal, causing death within minutes,” according to the city’s website.
Only a handful of states require carbon monoxide detectors in school buildings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those states are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine and Maryland.
On Monday afternoon, Lawrence Douglas County Fire Medical and Black Hills Energy completed an inspection at Kennedy and found no carbon monoxide, Boyle said.
Parents and staff have been informed of testing results conducted thus far, Boyle said.