Carbon monoxide is hard to detect.
Known as the “silent killer,” CO is an odorless, colorless gas produced when fossil fuels, wood, or anything containing carbon is burned. Heating systems, portable generators, charcoal grills, and cars are common sources of CO gas that can leak into enclosed spaces like our homes and commercial buildings. Without a CO detector, you are likely not to know it.
A scare at a child daycare facility in Allentown.
Young children and older adults are the most sensitive to the effects of CO exposure. Symptoms can develop within minutes to hours depending on the level of exposure. On October 11, 2022, 911 received a call about an unconscious child at the Happy Smiles Learning Center. A firefighter from the Allentown Fire Department, using a CO/gas meter, measured dangerously high levels of CO in the building. Of the 27 children and 8 staff evacuated, 28 were transported by ambulance to four hospitals for monitoring.
Preventing CO poisoning is easy, but the path of legislation is hard.
Simple and inexpensive CO detectors sound an alarm in the presence of CO gas. In 2010, Pennsylvania established a uniform construction code requiring CO detectors in new construction. Later, Act 121 (Senate Bill 607) passed, requiring detectors in all multifamily dwellings and rental units. This was an important but limited step in protection against CO poisoning.
Over the past 5 legislative sessions (2013–2022), numerous bills have been introduced that expand the list of places where CO monitoring is required. These include: schools, dormitories, childcare facilities, dependent daycare facilities, hotels, motels, and inns. Many of these bills had bipartisan support, and one protecting the elderly in residential dependent care facilities passed into law. All others entered various legislative committees and never came out.
The rinse-repeat cycle leading to Senate Bill 205 and House Bill 494: Childcare facilities.
Senate Bill 205 and House Bill 494 represent “An Act providing for standards for carbon monoxide alarms in childcare facilities; and imposing penalties.” Both are reintroductions (with new bill numbers) of last session’s bills (SB 129 and HB 2502) for the 2023–2024 legislative session.
For nine years, Senator Fontana has been introducing bills requiring CO monitoring in childcare and other facilities. Three of his bills specific to childcare facilities have passed unanimously in the Senate with no subsequent action in the House. The latest bill was SB 129, introduced in January 2021. After unanimous passage in the Senate, it was sent to the House, where it died in committee.
Meanwhile, Representative McNeil’s HB 2502 was referred to the House Health Committee on September 22, 2022. The CO gas exposure event at Happy Smiles Learning Center happened less than one month later. Yet despite strong public interest and co-sponsors from both parties, HB 2502 was never even considered in committee. The 2021–2022 legislative session ended with no House committee action on either bill. Therefore, the entire process would need to start again in the next session.
Where SB 205 and HB 494 stand as of April 2023:
Representative McNeil reintroduced her bill as HB 494 on March 17, 2023, with 27 cosponsors: 25 Democratic and 2 Republican. With new House Health Committee leadership, the bill was quickly scheduled for a vote. It passed the committee on April 4 with 17 yeas and 4 nays. On April 26 it came up for a vote on the House floor and passed 158–43.
Senator Fontana reintroduced his bill on Jan. 31, 2023 as SB 205, with 14 cosponsors: 12 Democratic, 2 Republican. The bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. On May 2, SB 205 was reported out of committee unanimously. HB 494 as of May 2, 2023 had not been sent to a Senate committee.