Carbon Monoxide in Chicago Public School Again

Carbon Monoxide Strikes At Shields Elementary School

By Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.


How many more people will get carbon monoxide poisoning in a Chicago Public School before the Chicago Public Schools gets carbon monoxide detectors installed in all places that the people are in these schools?

Wednesday we were in Prussing Elementary School inspecting the boiler room and realizing how vulnerable the entire aging school buildings were for poisoning events. Friday it happened again at Shields Elementary School on Chicago’s south side. The school at 4250 S. Rockwell St. in the Brighton Park neighborhood fortunately was evacuated before the school children entered. The victims were both teachers, who had the same type of symptoms that happened at Prussing Elementary School and at the North Mac Middle School in Girard, IL. See

Our firm and the Nolan Law Group are involved in litigation with respect to both incidents. At Prussing Elementary School on Chicago’s north side, 80 were hosptalized, but two or three times more than that should have been transported to the hospital. Instead, possibly hundreds of kids were given oxygen at the scene and then released by EMT’s.  In Girard, 180 people were transported to the hospital.

The Chicago Fire Department and the Chicago Public Schools want to make like this was nothing more than a fire drill. But the reality is that anytime people get sick from carbon monoxide poisoning, there is a risk of serious long term problems. Will it happen again before the carbon monoxide detectors are installed in January of 2016? Don’t be surprised. What we found at Prussing is likely very similar to the conditions at most older Chicago public schools. Incompatible HVAC systems compete for the fresh air in these buildings, creating the incomplete combustion that results in carbon monoxide fumes. Then those competing systems, separated by aging fire doors, recirculate those fumes throughout the building.

All it takes for these aging systems to go wrong is someone to leave a door open, or forget to open a door that needs to be left open. Too much is left to chance or to procedures that are forgotten or incapable of being followed by the cutbacks to staffing. Will the Chicago Public Schools fire another overworked maintenance person as a result or actually get carbon monoxide detectors where they will be heard? Will the Chicago Public Schools conduct the necessary safety audits to assure that a simple mistake with respect to opening or closing a door, doesn’t risk the lives and health of those in its buildings?

It seems only lawsuits get the Board’s attention. Hopefully, they will learn this lesson now.




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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