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Law mandates home carbon monoxide detectors

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The carbon monoxide poisoning of a Glassport mother and her four children last week provided a grim reminder of the threat posed by the odorless gas.

A state law aims to reduce such incidents by expanding the requirement for carbon monoxide detectors in homes. By June 2015, detectors will be required in all multi-family dwellings and rental properties with a fossil fuel-burning heater or appliance, fireplace or attached garage. Sellers will be required to say in property disclosures whether their buildings have detectors.

“Certainly we want to make sure that our residents are safe, but it's a significant mandate,” said James Eichenlaub, executive director of the Apartment Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh.

The law requires property owners to pick up the tab for installing at least one detector near bedrooms in each housing unit. That could cost millions of dollars.

Census figures show the Pittsburgh metropolitan area is home to more than 300,000 rental units. Detectors cost $20 and up. It's unknown how many units have detectors.

Eichenlaub said apartment owners and landlords will have to revise lease agreements to advise tenants of their responsibilities.

The law, signed by Gov. Tom Corbett in December, requires tenants to maintain the detectors.

“It's not something that can just be done overnight,” Eichenlaub said.

Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh County, knows that. He's been proposing related legislation for years.

“Pennsylvania leads the nation in fatalities as a result of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning,” Browne said, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The best way to address this danger is prevention through the installation of carbon monoxide detectors.”

Carbon monoxide poisoning results in an average of 450 deaths and more than 20,000 emergency room visits annually, according to the CDC.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office reported 15 accidental carbon monoxide poisoning deaths over the past six years. That included three last year, the highest total in three years.

The law might not have helped the Glassport family, which survived the poisoning on the evening of March 19.

The landlord, listed as Yehudai Amit, faces citations for various code violations, including failing to have the single-family, rental home inspected before the family moved in, said Glassport building inspector Steve Volpe. It remains unknown whether the home had carbon monoxide detectors, he said.

Volpe said he inspected the home the following morning and it had three detectors, along with what appeared to be ductwork, vents and a new hot water heater.

“The night before, the fire chief said a vent was so rusty that you could poke your finger through it. The next morning, they had a brand new one,” Volpe said. Amit could not be reached.

The family was treated at UPMC Presbyterian when the mother, a nurse, took the family to the hospital when one daughter appeared disoriented and had trouble with her balance and another daughter complained of a headache, Volpe said.

“Everyone should have at least one detector, regardless of the law,” said Mt. Lebanon fire Chief Nicholas Sohyda, who has two in his home — one in the area of its bedrooms and the other near the furnace and hot water heater in the basement.

David Namey, manager of the county Health Department's housing and community environment program, has three detectors in his home.

“One incident like the one in Glassport is too many. You can get a good detector for $20. It's well worth it,” Namey said.

Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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