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March 14, 2014

In Our Opinion: City wise to look at code change

The Daily Star

---- — Laws and regulations often chase real life, reacting to disasters (or near-disasters) after they’ve happened.

Leandra’s Law, which made it a felony to drive drunk with a passenger age 15 or younger, passed the state Legislature after Leandra Rosado was killed in a car accident in 2009. Oneonta’s own codes were tightened up in the early 1980s after two fires and a carbon monoxide leak prompted concerns. 

Now a carbon monoxide leak at a business has city Code Enforcement Officer Robert Chiappisi considering another change to the city’s regulations. 

Two women were hospitalized on March 4 after carbon monoxide was detected at a local florist shop. One woman’s exposure to the poisonous gas was so severe that she was transported to a Syracuse hospital for treatment in a hyperbaric chamber, which helps reduce the amount of carbon monoxide in the body. 

According to Oneonta Fire Chief Patrick Pidgeon, the vent for the building’s propane furnace had become clogged by snow and ice, causing the poison to accumulate within the building to dangerous levels. A reading in the basement, near the furnace, showed 450 parts per million. According to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, unconsciousness and death are possible at levels above 150 to 200 ppm. 

Luckily, the people affected by this accident got out in time. But CO poisoning can make people fatigued, dizzy and disoriented. At levels as high as they were in this case, this story could have had a much more tragic ending. 

As the CPSC explains it, “For rapidly developing, high level CO exposures ... victims can rapidly become mentally confused, and can lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms; they will likely die if not rescued.”

Scary stuff. And it’s not hard to imagine — especially after the winter we’ve had — this scenario being repeated elsewhere. So we encourage Chiappisi and his colleagues on the Common Council to take a hard look at the possibility of requiring CO detectors for local businesses. 

We realize that any additional regulation constitutes an additional burden, however minimal, for businesses that already face quite a substantial amount of red tape. But a $30 CO detector that needs little more than its batteries replaced from time to time doesn’t seem like an extreme thing to ask businesses to provide. 

In the meantime, we encourage businesses that do not already have CO detectors installed to consider doing so, regardless of what the code requires. It could not only help protect customers and employees, but it could also save a business owner’s own life. And surely that’s worth $30.