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Officials: Commercial CO detectors costly, but could save lives

Rescue vehicles stand near Legal Sea Foods Saturday,

Rescue vehicles stand near Legal Sea Foods Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Huntington Station, where a restaurant manager died of carbon monoxide inhalation and about two dozen were sickened. In reaction, Hempstead Town wants commercial buildings to have CO detectors. Credit: Stringer News Service

Installing carbon monoxide detectors in commercial buildings -- not currently required under current state building codes -- could save lives, medical and fire code experts said yesterday.

But officials who are helping to update New York's fire code said such a requirement could be a tough sell.

"It's the cost," said Jeff Wilkinson, president of the New York State Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association, which represents fire marshals and code enforcement officials. "You start driving up costs, builders start to complain."

Wilkinson said that with higher ceilings, it can be more expensive to wire commercial spaces such as malls for carbon monoxide detection, though he had no cost estimate. Walt Whitman Shops, next to the Legal Sea Foods restaurant in Huntington Station, where the general manager died Saturday, has carbon monoxide detectors, a mall spokesman said yesterday.

While the state does not mandate the detectors for commercial buildings, Huntington Town code requires them in hotels and nursing homes.

Dr. Lindell K. Weaver, a medical director at two hospitals in Utah who has published papers on carbon monoxide poisoning and treats it, said there's no good reason for not having the detectors in homes and businesses.

"I think they should all have carbon monoxide alarms," Weaver said from a Salt Lake City hospital.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year in the United States, more than 400 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning and 20,000 go to the emergency room.

Other estimates put those numbers higher. Papers in the New England Journal of Medicine and other medical publications estimate 50,000 people a year go to the emergency room with carbon monoxide poisoning.

Michael Gross, senior vice president at Huntington Hospital, said Sunday he thinks the logical step now would be for restaurants to have carbon monoxide detectors so that this does not occur again.

"This is completely preventable, and carbon monoxide detectors are accurate and inexpensive," he said. He said Saturday's carbon monoxide leak at Legal Sea Foods was unusual.

Mitchell Pally, chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute, said he doesn't know of a discussion to require carbon monoxide detectors in commercial buildings in New York.

In New York, carbon monoxide alarms are required in houses under a 2009 law.

State Fire Administrator Bryant Stevens said while the state has discussed mandating commercial detectors, the focus has been on the residential side.

Battery-operated detectors can be purchased for about $20, though Weaver recommends one with a digital readout that would show a rise in carbon monoxide levels before they become dangerous.

But wiring houses or buildings for carbon monoxide detection can be much more expensive, said Doc Mitchell, a forensic construction expert. He said he spent $1,200 to wire his house for carbon monoxide detection.

With Tania Lopez

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