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Nassau readies sweeping CO detector law

Legal Sea Foods at the Walt Whitman Shops

Legal Sea Foods at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station, Nov. 8, 2013. Credit: Yana Paskova

Nassau County is poised to pass what officials are calling the nation's "most comprehensive and complete" carbon monoxide detection law.

Spurred by the recent poisoning death of a restaurant manager in Suffolk, the Nassau County Legislature's rules and public safety committees this week approved a measure to make detectors of the odorless, colorless gas mandatory in all new and existing commercial and public buildings.

The Republican-controlled legislature is expected to pass the measure, with bipartisan support, at its April 28 meeting.

"Whether or not it was because of a tragic incident, we're going to do the right thing for our residents," said Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow). "This is very, very extensive legislation."

One person died and dozens were sickened when carbon monoxide leaked from a faulty flue pipe in the basement of Legal Sea Foods in Huntington Station on Feb. 22. The building had no detectors.

Carbon monoxide detectors are required in residences under state law, but the incident prompted a series of local and state proposals to ensure businesses also are covered.

The State Senate and Assembly are discussing bills, and Hempstead Town passed its own law last month. Similar legislation is on the table in Brookhaven and Huntington towns, and in Suffolk County.

Currently, Nassau code only requires smoke detectors and alarm systems in commercial buildings. The county bill, drafted by the fire marshal's office, would make new businesses install building wide carbon monoxide detection systems connected to the fire alarm network and accessible to first responders. Such systems typically cost more than $1,000.

Existing businesses and government buildings would need only to install plug-in or battery-operated units. The law would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015, and violators would face fines of up to $1,000 for individuals and $5,000 for corporations.

Acting Chief Fire Marshal John Priest said in a report that Nassau's proposal would be "the most comprehensive and complete carbon monoxide detection law in the United States." Priest noted that beyond installation requirements, the measure also provides business owners detailed instructions on how to comply.

"Carbon monoxide poisoning is an important public health problem and we will do all we can to prevent such senseless deaths here in Nassau," County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement.

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) was the first lawmaker to propose a commercial carbon monoxide detector requirement following the Legal Sea Foods death.

Initially, Gonsalves said the county would defer to the state, but local fire officials later recommended that Nassau take action.

"There's no question that the state should have a uniform law," Jacobs said. "But I'm very pleased that the county has decided to take its own stand and get something on the books."

Richard Bivone, Nassau chairman of the Long Island Business Council, a trade group, called the proposal a "good thing." He said allowing existing business owners to install plug-in or battery detectors means the proposal won't be a financial burden.

"We thought it was very important to give them some avenue to not have to go and put whole detection systems in their entire buildings, which could cost thousands and thousands of dollars," Bivone said.

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