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Newsday: Molloy’s Sustainability Institute and CO Detectors

By Paul Larocco

Carbon monoxide alarms will be required in all Nassau public and commercial buildings under a bill passed Monday by the county legislature.

In a rare bipartisan vote, lawmakers backed revising the fire protection code to make detectors of the odorless, colorless gas mandatory in new and existing structures by Jan. 1, 2015.

Neal Lewis, director of The Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, holds detector while testifying at Legislature hearing.  Photo by Howard SchnappTo lessen the financial impact on businesses, only the new buildings and those seeking new permits for major renovations will have to install hard-wired carbon monoxide detection systems that connect to the county's fire alarm network. Those systems can cost several thousand dollars.

Existing locations will only be required to install plug-in or battery-operated detectors.

"I think the ordinance is fair to the business community and protects the general public and business workers from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning," said Bob Williams, a Centereach alarm company executive and former firefighter.

Nassau officials said they were prompted to act after the Feb. 22 death of a restaurant manager in Huntington Station who was poisoned during a carbon monoxide leak. The leak at Legal Sea Foods, which did not have carbon monoxide detectors, also sickened dozens of employees and rescuers.

Since then, numerous municipalities have moved to fill the gap in state law that only requires detectors in residences. Brookhaven, Huntington, Hempstead and North Hempstead are among towns that passed laws covering places of public assembly. Suffolk County is considering legislation.

Advocates say Nassau's law goes further than others adopted after the Legal Sea Foods death by also providing businesses with detailed training instructions in how to comply.

"It's a bill that goes much further than what the state law requires, and in that respect, it's a very good thing," said Neal Lewis, executive director of The Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, which has pushed for comprehensive local carbon monoxide detector laws.

Lewis said it would be better if the county, like Hempstead and North Hempstead, required digital detectors that detail the specific carbon monoxide levels in the air. Lewis noted that levels below those that trigger most alarms can cause adverse health effects.

Officials pledged to continue studying the matter and revise the ordinance if needed. "Everything can be improved," said Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), "but this is a very, very comprehensive piece of legislation."