Carbon Monoxide Task Force Report

Roanoke College Carbon Monoxide Task Force Report
October 25, 2006

On July 18, 2006, Dr. Sabine O'Hara appointed a five-member task force to study the accident involving the release of carbon monoxide in Sections residence hall and to help develop the college's long-term response to these issues. The task force members include Mark Noftsinger, vice president of business affairs (task force chair) ; Thomas Turner, director of campus safety; Teresa Blethyn, assistant dean of students for residence life; Rick Myers, director of physical plant; and Dr. Benjamin Huddle, professor of chemistry. The task force was charged with addressing three areas: technical issues related to carbon monoxide detection and warning systems; best practices and procedures; and education on the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The task force met on July 18, July 26, August 2, August 15, September 21, and October 17. During this time period, task force members researched current information on carbon monoxide and its sources, physiological effects, existing technology to detect CO, practices in states with CO detection laws, and educational materials. The task force has developed observations and recommendations given below in each of the three areas.

A. Technical issues related to carbon monoxide detection and warning systems

  1. There are many potential sources of carbon monoxide in a campus environment; most notable are areas where natural gas-fired equipment is located. In these areas with high potential for CO buildup, carbon monoxide monitoring equipment should be installed.
    1. CO detectors (Sensepoint Pro Model) manufactured by Honeywell Analytics should be installed in all mechanical rooms where gas-fired boilers and water heaters are located. These units should be hard-wired into existing fire alarm systems to sound the evacuation alarm if the CO concentration reaches a level of concern. They should have a digital readout showing the CO concentration.
    2. CO detectors should be installed in the areas listed below. The make and model of the detector should be determined by the application as to whether a free-standing or hard-wired detector is needed.
      1. Residence hall laundry rooms with gas-fired clothes dryers.
      2. The team laundry area of the Bast athletic complex.
      3. Laboratories where natural gas is used.
      4. Dining Commons kitchen and bakery area.
      5. Olin Hall kiln area.
      6. President's Dining Room (gas fireplace).
  2. The college should purchase three portable handheld CO detectors to be used as needed to monitor air quality by Physical Plant staff, Campus Safety staff and Chemistry Department faculty.

B. Best practices and procedures

  1. The college will install emergency evacuation plans on the back of the door to every residence hall room.
  2. The college will continue to work with the Salem Fire Department to have campus floor plan notebooks available on an ongoing basis.
  3. Campus residence hall evacuation drills are conducted periodically throughout the academic year and should continue.
  4. The college should inform employees on a regular basis of the evacuation procedures for academic and administrative buildings.
  5. Weekly mechanical room inspections should be performed by the physical plant staff to monitor installed CO detectors (see item A.1.a).
  6. Signs should be posted in loading dock areas to prohibit idling of cars and trucks in close proximity to campus buildings.
  7. The college should determine if it is necessary to prohibit the use of wood-burning fireplaces that are in some campus buildings.
  8. The college should ensure that the laundry equipment vendor performs periodic maintenance checks of gas-fired clothes dryers.

C. Education on the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The college should provide educational and awareness information to members of the college community through the following means:

  1. Informational web site links on appropriate college web pages. These include links to the U.S. Fire Administration, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Fire Protection Association.
  2. An informational/educational letter should be sent to students at the beginning of the semester on behalf of the college by Dr. Huddle.
  3. The August "town-gown" letter to off-campus students and parents should contain information on CO detection and safety.
  4. The "Off Campus Housing Guide" published by the Residence Life Office should be revised to contain information about CO safety and detection in off-campus student rental properties.
  5. General CO information should be distributed to faculty and staff and include the NFPA pamphlet "Carbon Monoxide Alarms-Listening for the Silent Killer."
  6. Targeted training through special sessions, routine staff meetings or other departmental training opportunities should be conducted for specified employees who may be first responders to a CO alarm or accident, who routinely work in and around natural gas-fired appliances or who may perform job tasks involving operating internal combustion engine powered equipment in confined spaces.
    1. Resident Assistants and Area Coordinators
    2. Physical Plant Staff
    3. Campus Safety Staff
    4. Health Services Staff
    5. Dining Services Staff

The task force realizes that it is impossible to eliminate every possibility of exposure to carbon monoxide, and that accidents can happen. Nevertheless, we would like to minimize the possibilities of exposure to carbon monoxide as much as possible. We believe the suggestions made above are reasonable, prudent and affordable. If they are implemented, we believe every student, faculty member and administrator should feel confident that Roanoke College has done everything possible to keep them safe and healthy.