By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY
ATLANTA - A group of state officials have stopped short of recommending all Georgia schools be required to install carbon monoxide detectors, opting instead to release voluntary guidelines urging schools to look at their buildings and take action necessary to keep students safe.
A task force was formed at the request of Gov. Nathan Deal after 44 children and 10 adults at Finch Elementary School in Atlanta were sickened in a December 2012 carbon monoxide leak. The group's recommendations were released Wednesday.
Gretchen Corbin, commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, said in a statement that the group determined that requiring detectors in schools might not always be the best solution since many newer ones have electric heating systems and limited risk. She added the installation of carbon monoxide detectors also requires "an ongoing and extensive maintenance and replacement schedule."
"The task force determined that a school-by-school assessment of the need for carbon monoxide detectors by local officials combined with good training for school staff is more beneficial than a state mandate," Corbin said.
Under the voluntary guidelines, the group is recommending that officials evaluate every building for potential sources of carbon monoxide. Plans to mitigate the risk could include replacing a piece of equipment or installing a carbon monoxide detection system.
The governor supports the panel's recommendations, said spokesman Brian Robinson.
"We feel like the recommendations put forth by the panel will keep children safe," Robinson said. "It is up to local school districts to implement those recommendations."
Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said state schools Superintendent John Barge "believes it is best to have CO detectors in every school, but also believes that should not be an unfunded mandate by the state."
Officials had estimated the cost to install a carbon monoxide detector in an existing school would range from $168 for a stand-alone unit to $375 for one that is monitored by a system and connected to an existing fire alarm control panel.
The Atlanta City Council voted earlier this year to require carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in all public buildings, including schools after what happened at Finch. When properly installed, the detectors give a warning when carbon monoxide reaches unsafe levels.
State laws and local building codes vary across the country. While Connecticut requires them in schools, Maryland requires them in newly built and remodeled schools. In Georgia, the detectors are required in homes and, beginning in January, will be required in hotels, motels, dorms, apartment buildings, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, prisons and jails and child care centers.
An investigation by the state insurance and fire commissioner's office determined the leak at Finch was caused by human error involving the school's gas-fired boiler. In its recommendations, the task force urged schools to make sure that all boilers have been inspected annually as required by law, provide training on proper maintenance and equipment operation and ensure school personnel are familiar with the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.