Require carbon monoxide detectors in Virginia schools and daycares

Require carbon monoxide detectors in Virginia schools and daycares

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Did you know there's a good chance the daycare or school you send your child to in the State of Virginia isn't required to have a Carbon Monoxide Detector installed on the premises?

I didn't until an emergency impacted my children's daycare on February 20, 2020

Based on this experience, we've compiled a must-read crash course of the dangers to Virginia Schools here and our plans for advocacy here.

If you don't think you need to be concerned about CO, think again.

Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:

• Dull headache
• Weakness
• Dizziness
• Nausea or vomiting
• Shortness of breath
• Confusion
• Blurred vision
• Loss of consciousness
• Carbon monoxide poisoning can be particularly dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. People may have irreversible brain damage or even die before anyone realizes there's a problem.

At risk for carbon monoxide poisoning are children in particular, as young children take breaths more frequently than adults do, which may make them more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Back to our personal story:

Our daycare has looked after my children since August of 2015. It is a state licensed child care center, and nationally accredited through the National Early Childhood Program of Accreditation. As a parent, I have found administrative staff and teachers to be of the highest quality and to have been truly compassionate in the care of my children while my husband serves in the military and I run my own business.

On a daily basis from the hours of 6:30am to 6pm, there are roughly 20-25 staff members and administrators, as well as 8 classrooms with roughly 8-16 children in each on site between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 years old.

And on February 20, a carbon monoxide detector went off – and we only found out later it wasn't even the school's detector.

Parents were notified at 2:20 p.m to come pick up children immediately – we were not told and likely won't know at what point the leak started, how long the children and staff were exposed, and at what ppm levels.

What we know + why I'm advocating:

Because there was no law requiring this facility to have a carbon monoxide detector installed it did not have them, even though there was a natural gas-related system on site

• Doors opened at 6:30 am for staff and students and teachers first started experiencing headaches, nausea + other symptoms in the late morning; at least one child became lethargic and exhibited signs of unconsciousness and pale complexion; due to the ages of the children many kids take naps on premises one or multiple times during the day

• At the request of a teacher during lunch, a teacher's spouse brought in a home CO detector, plugged it in and it confirmed a presence of CO in the building at 2:15 after symptoms appeared to be spreading and increasing

• Emergency officials were notified resulting in 2 fire trucks, 2 ambulances, EMT staff and police on site (including road closure to the facility)

• Children + teachers were evacuated to a nearby location where parents picked them up after being notified of the emergency

• Prior to departing the evacuation building, children and staffed were checked by EMTs with portable CO readers (optional, not all parents stayed or were told this needed to be completed)

• Any children or staff who needed to be checked out further were evaluated in ambulances, and if required, transported to local hospitals 

• To the best of my knowledge, 3 teachers were transported to local hospitals; some children (including my own) were evaluated in ambulances but did not need to be or declined to be transported for mild to moderate symptoms 

• According to emergency responders I spoke with while being referred to the ambulance for my son – most children were at least mildly symptomatic 

• On February 21, after inspection by the Fire Department, Natural Gas Department and Health Department, it was discovered that a fault in the daycare's gas heating system was the source of the CO leak. The building was given the all clear to re-open for normal hours on Monday, February 24.

• Because of the February 20 event, the daycare immediately installed detectors in each classroom and in other spaces throughout the facility. 

• But a week later, on Friday, February 28, the newly installed alarms sounded – and alerted the staff to another carbon monoxide leak. Had the detectors not been there, we would have sent our children back into dangerous conditions after having been given the all-clear less than a week before. 

>>> WE WERE LUCKY. BOTH TIMES. <<<

Carbon monoxide poisoning should NOT be a concern to parents when they drop their kids off at state-licensed daycare and educational facilities. 

• This petition asks for legislation in the State of Virginia that would make carbon monoxide detectors (and more frequent regular servicing/inspection of them) a REQUIREMENT for all state licensed daycare + educational facilities, regardless of year built (at minimum those with fuel-fired appliances and at risk for CO-related issues)

• In addition this petition asks that childcare workers, educators and administrative staff in these facilities be better trained/certified on how to spot symptoms + create clear emergency plans around carbon monoxide in addition to their CPR/First Aid training + fire/tornado/intruder emergency drills.

• This petition also asks for immediate, transparent documentation in the form of an accessible link or database of which Virginia Schools (daycare, public, private, charter) ARE or ARE NOT actively protected from carbon monoxide poisoning, which ones have glaring CO risks on site (and if so, how are they protected.

Let's not wait until the worst-case scenario occurs before making this change.

A quick Google search of carbon monoxide scares at schools will show you what a national issue this is – and is being experienced locally here in Virginia.

I appreciate your signature to this petition! 

Warmly,

Nikki Zellner

Note: All photos appearing with this petition were taken by the Zellner family with the exception of the photo of Nikki James Zellner + her two boys on the couch, which was taken by Kaitlin McKeown of the Virginian-Pilot to accompany their story. At the start of this petition there was a photo of children napping in a preschool – that photo was taken by Jay Janner of the Austin American-Statesman. That photo has since been deleted at the request of a school similar in appearance with no affiliation to this petition or the incident that prompted it.