Boiler or Chimney System at Fault for Prussing Elementary?

By Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.


Is it the boiler or the chimney system at Fault for Prussing Elementary School Carbon Monoxide poisoning? In an excellent investigative piece, Phil Huckelberry uncovers significant neglect in the way in which the Chicago Public Schools maintained the boiler system at Prussing Elementary School in Chicago. See Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers in  On October 30, the school was evacuated and as many as 80 people taken to the hospital as a result of a carbon monoxide poisoning event.

What is missing in this detailed treatment of the history, is the explanation of how the carbon monoxide got out of the chimney system, into the school proper. A malfunctioning boiler, if it is properly vented, will not cause a carbon monoxide poisoning. Regardless of how poor the combustion in the boiler, if the smoke gets up the chimney, no poisoning will occur. In order for exhaust fumes to get out into the school, there must be a leak or flaw in the chimney system.

The keys to explaining the leak may be in Huckelberry’s reporting, however. He mentions that on September 11, 2015, standing water was found in the boiler room. This standing water is likely clear evidence that there was condensation inside the exhaust venting for the boilers. Condensation of natural gas exhaust not includes water but acid. Combined, they cause severe corrosion on any metallic part of the exhaust piping. Corrosion equals a breach in the pipe, thus a leak.

The other clue is the reference to “negative pressure” in Huckelberry’s article. Negative pressure is likely the cause of the condensation. Negative pressure occurs when something is drawing air down the chimney, faster than the heat of the exhaust is driving the smoke up the chimney. Since hot air rises, it take significant other pressure to reverse that trend. However, the higher the chimney and the greater the negative pressure, the more likely there will be the corrosion causing condensation.

One of the ironies of the actions taken by the school when it had warning signs that something was wrong the October 30, 2015 is that by opening the windows, they may have not been airing the out the building, but drawing the carbon monoxide further into the school. By the time the windows were opened, the air in the building was much hotter than the outside air. Thus, the warm air is drawn outside, increasing the negative pressure in the boiler room, pulling the carbon monoxide further into the building.

The best way to get answers as to what was at fault for Prussing Elementary poisoning is to force the Chicago Public Schools to answer these questions in Court. The more parents who join our litigation against the Chicago Public Schools, the more clout we will have in getting answers. We need answers not just to make right what happened at Pressing Elementary School, but to also assure that it doesn’t happen somewhere else.

Attorney Gordon Johnson



Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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