A malfunctioning boiler led to the emission of high levels of carbon monoxide in Hefley Hall, a female residence hall, last Thursday.
A resident’s store-bought detector alerted her to the problem. Hefley Hall itself does not have a carbon monoxide detector installed. The building was evacuated until the leak was fixed and the fire department deemed it safe to enter in less than an hour.
Jennifer McClure, assistant director for Marketing for Student Housing, noted that the fire department responded very quickly after being alerted to the issue.
“It was great service, a great response time,” McClure said.
Nels Strickland, associate director of Facilities for the Department of Student Housing, said that their main priority is the safety of residents.
“If there’s anything that’s going to affect our residents, it’s going to upset us, and we’re not going to let anything slip by without fixing it,” Strickland said.
The carbon monoxide emissions were triggered by an imbalance of oxygen in the building’s gas furnace. While the furnace is supposed to create blue flames, the presence of too much oxygen resulted in irregular yellow flames, which created soot that was released into the flues and emitted the gas.
While the newer residence halls have carbon monoxide detectors in individual rooms, some of the older buildings, including Hefley, do not have detectors installed. The university is currently in the process of discussing the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in these older residence halls’ common areas, especially the basements, where problems are likeliest to occur.
Strickland said the university hopes to have completed the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in all residence halls by Christmas.
Alexis Corley, junior marketing major and Hefley Hall community assistant, was not aware of the fact that Hefley was not equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. Corley said the fire department was called after the detector went off and fresh oxygen was pumped throughout the floors.
“Carbon monoxide is toxic to humans when encountered in high concentration, so it is important that high carbon monoxide levels are detected before the carbon monoxide begins to harm the residents,” Corley said.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas and is produced whenever a fossil fuel is burned. Exposure to high quantities of carbon monoxide can impede the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to body tissues and vital organs.
Annually, there are over 20,000 emergency room visits, 4,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States.
Early and common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headache, nausea, weakness, chest pain and confusion.
If it had gone unchecked, the carbon monoxide leak could have been threatening to the health of Hefley Hall residents, according to Corley.