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  • Writer's pictureNikki James Zellner

2022-2023 Campus Report Card shows carbon monoxide exposure remains an issue in U.S. schools

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA – CO Safe Schools, the nation's only organization focusing exclusively on carbon monoxide prevention on campuses of daycares, K-12 schools, and colleges/universities, has released its first-ever U.S. Campus Report Card.

Out of 17 U.S.-based press-reported carbon monoxide incidents in the 2022-2023 school year, the following key data emerged:

  • The Southeast region had the most carbon monoxide-related incidents at 7, followed by the Midwest, Southwest, and Northeast regions with 3 incidents each, and the West region with 1 incident

  • The majority of incidents took place in public elementary schools (K-5)

  • Carbon monoxide detection was not installed in 9 of the campuses; 6 campuses had detection, however, only three of those campuses' detectors alerted

  • 50 students and 24 staff members had medical injuries requiring treatment at local and regional hospitals

  • 2 student fatalities occurred on a college campus due to accidental carbon monoxide accumulation in the cabin of their private vehicle

  • Faulty gas appliances (7 incidents), improper ventilation (5 incidents), and inadequate ventilation (2 incidents) were all listed as reasons for the exposures; in three of the incidents, a source was not reported

  • PPM levels of carbon monoxide accumulation were not reported to the public in 12 of the 17 incidents


While CO Safe Schools has compiled a full dataset of over 270 press-reported carbon monoxide injuries on campuses across the U.S. as far back as the late 1990s and will continue to track new incidents as they take place, CO Safe Schools' Campus Report Card will be released annually each September to bring renewed attention to carbon monoxide incidents that occurred on campuses across the United States the previous school year and summer school session.

"It's my hope that this will keep the CO conversation top of mind during back-to-school and college send-off when school safety is a high priority and topic of conversation," Nikki James Zellner, founder of CO Safe Schools, said. "Its timing will also align with the change in season when heating systems that have been dormant for many months begin turning on in our aging schools across the nation."

Zellner adds, "We focus on press-reported incidents, but acknowledge that every incident can't or won't be covered due to lack of detection devices on campuses, or lack of reporting via local and national news organizations. If a school only sends out a release to Facebook after the fact that says HVAC issues were the cause of early dismissal, we're not going to be able to definitively include that in our numbers. It's imperative that local journalists be able to report on carbon monoxide incidents accurately when they occur for public safety, and that includes the level of carbon monoxide occupants were exposed to."


Carbon monoxide is called 'the silent killer' because it is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless poison. It can only be detected with a detection device – the longer a person is exposed, the more health effects they will experience. If exposed long enough, or to large amounts in a short period of time, organ damage and death can occur.

Carbon monoxide in the air rapidly enters all parts of the body, including blood, brain, and muscles – through simply breathing in. The carbon monoxide in your body leaves through your lungs when you breathe out. Carbon monoxide binds to your red blood cells, essentially starving your body of the vital oxygen it needs to function correctly.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can mimic common illnesses often seen in school settings – making front-line workers (such as teachers, and administrators) key in recognizing a developing situation. A key indicator of an issue occurring is the onset of symptoms among more than one person within the same space – which may be occurring rapidly.

It is imperative for all occupants of a building experiencing carbon monoxide exposure to vacate the property immediately into fresh air. If detection devices such as monitors, alarms, or detectors are not on-site, campuses are putting their occupants' health and life safety at risk.


CO Safe Schools helps community members who value education, health, and safety understand, advocate for, and achieve CO-safe school campuses. The only U.S.-based CO safety organization to focus on schools specifically (as opposed to general awareness and news), it is the goal of CO Safe Schools to bring awareness and education to not only the general public but also to stakeholders engaged in and accountable for creating safer campus environments

CO Safe Schools is helmed by parent activist and founder Nikki James Zellner, who started tracking carbon monoxide-related exposures in schools after her two children, ages 4 and 3 at the time, were poisoned in their Virginia Beach daycare along with 80 other students between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 years old. Zellner would go on to successfully advocate for CO safety changes in Virginia law and state building code, and participate in national conversations encouraging code organizations to review and update CO-related codes for daycares and schools nationally and internationally. An advocate on air, online, and on stage, Zellner has spoken most recently at the Center for Campus Fire Safety webinar series, the NFPA Life Safety Conference in Las Vegas, as well as NCOAA's CO Safety Summit in Wilmington, NC.

More resources:

CO Safe Schools_Campus Report Card_2022-2023
Download PDF • 947KB

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