Officials: Maintenance workers’ actions hampered leak probe
by Jeff Martin
Associated Press Writer
December 06, 2012 12:00 AM | 616 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATLANTA — Maintenance workers who began dismantling a boiler system that leaked carbon monoxide into an elementary school and sickened dozens of students were trying to act in the best interest of students and staff, Atlanta Public Schools officials said Wednesday.

Officials in the state fire commissioner’s office initially said investigators were unable to determine the cause of the potentially lethal gas leak because the boiler system was already being dismantled before it could be examined.

“It was an instance where we needed to resolve an emergency issue at the school, our team is going to go in and try to resolve the issue and that’s exactly what they did,” said Stephen Alford, a school district spokesman.

More than 40 students and seven adults at the southwest Atlanta school were treated at hospitals amid Monday’s leak.

Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens told WSB-TV the system being dismantled before fire officials arrived “destroyed any ability that we would have to determine what the cause was.”

Later, Hudgens’ spokesman Glenn Allen, said the comments were premature and it was too early to say whether officials would not be able to determine the cause of the leak. Allen said the boiler being dismantled hindered the investigation, but did not stop the probe.

“Inspectors would have liked to have seen the boiler intact before they arrived, that wasn’t the case. It kind of hindered some of the steps they would take when they would initially do their investigation.”

Officials will still be able to run tests on the equipment to try determining what went wrong, Allen said. A temporary boiler was installed Wednesday. State officials were preparing to inspect the equipment, and Atlanta fire officials must inspect the building before it is allowed to reopen.

The maintenance workers were primarily concerned with identifying the problem and securing the building, Alford said.

“Moving forward we will make sure that we’re on the same page with local fire officials, but our top priority was to make sure that our students were safe,” he said.

The school’s boiler has been removed and was sent to the manufacturer for a forensic assessment.

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