FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --Carbon monoxide kills more than 400 Americans every year according to the CDC and a recent school tragedy in Texas had local parents wondering if their kids were safe.
Firefighters found two dead bodies in this Central Fresno home last winter.
What they didn't find was a possible lifesaver. The victims were renovating their home when they died of carbon monoxide poisoning. They never knew it was coming. The gas is silent and odorless, and the house had no carbon monoxide detector.
Neither did a school in southeast Texas where carbon monoxide seeped into classrooms last month. Almost 180 people got sick. The incident sounded an alarm at ABC30, so we made public records requests to 11 Central Valley school districts to find out if they use carbon monoxide detectors. The answer, almost universally, was no. "My thoughts are that it's disturbing. We should have them in our schools," said April Griffin, Coarsegold.
"I think there should be. In all the schools, just like we have them in our homes," said Liz McCabe, parent.
California law requires carbon monoxide detectors in almost all homes built since 2013. It'll be the same in schools starting next year. But for now, they're nowhere to be found on most campuses, even at foothill schools like Coarsegold Elementary where heaters are needed for a longer part of the year. And yet, administrators across the Valley are convinced students are safe.
Tulare joint union, for example, told Action News they have "very well maintained fossil fuel burning devices. The filters are changed four times a year and the units are thoroughly inspected."
School buildings are also designed to reduce exposure. At newer schools like Madera's Pershing, you can see the HVAC units are up on top of the building and, therefore, the gas is ventilated away from the classroom and into the outdoors.
Fire inspectors said broken or malfunctioning pipes on gas water heaters near classrooms could also deliver the gas to student areas. Before noticing it, the kids could start to experience headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. But Madera's superintendent told us there are other protections in place. "The air circulation requirements for classrooms is pretty stringent, so we're pretty comfortable that our classrooms are completely safe," said Edward Gonzalez, Madera Unified Superintendent.
Madera Unified plans to build seven new schools in the next 12 years. Unlike Boris Elementary in Clovis, which is already under construction, the new Madera schools will have to include carbon monoxide detectors.
In the meantime, parents will have to hope the already existing safeguards are enough to avoid a carbon copy of the Texas trouble.