It's odorless, colorless and deadly. If carbon monoxide is leaking in a school, it might not be detected.
Atlanta school officials are discussing whether to install carbon monoxide alarms after a leak sent 42 students and seven adults to the hospital Monday and forced the evacuation of 500 students. The gas was found at potentially unsafe levels near a furnace.
Only two states, Maryland and Connecticut, have laws requiring carbon monoxide alarms in schools.
A report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advised that schools install them. An environmental health expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures called the installation of alarms a "no-brainer."
In Wichita, the school district says it conducts in-person air inspections one a month.
"Carbon monoxide being a considerable concern because of its poisonous characteristics, we went and bought detectors that we could bring into buildings to measure gas concentrations," said Timothy Phares, director of the district's Environmental Services department. "We have a check list for indoor air quality that looks at not just carbon monoxide but other air contaminants that could be a concern for students and staff."
To prevent dangerous exhaust fumes from heaters from ever reaching kids, schools use hot water to heat classrooms (white pipes) and vent exhaust fumes directly outside (silver pipes). The two sets never cross each other so even if the exhaust pipes crack, they can't contaminate classroom air.
"Practically all of our mechanical systems have been redone," said Phares. "The older schools have been retrofitted with good mechanical systems. We're really proud of that."
Schools also have digital monitoring systems that check the the gases in each boiler. If something is wrong, the boiler is shutdown for maintenance.