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Schumer calls for Carbon monoxide detectors

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In light of two recent carbon monoxide leaks in two air traffic control towers that poisoned controllers tasked with protecting the flying public, putting their lives at risk, today U.S. Senator Charles Schumer blasted the FAA for ignoring the need for carbon monoxide detectors in air traffic control towers.

The leaks highlighted a serious lapse in passenger safety, as no alarms were available to alert controllers to the presence of toxic fumes in their offices, leaving them to work unwittingly in dangerous conditions.

"The thousands of people flying in our skies daily rely on the mental sharpness and clarity of our air traffic controllers to get them on the ground safely," said Senator Schumer. "Sadly, the FAA appears to have forgotten their duty in ensuring the safety of both our controllers and passengers, as they've yet again left our safety vulnerable while cutting corners and costs."

Last week's evacuation of air traffic controllers at Washington Dulles Airport tower due to release of carbon monoxide, where four workers were treated on the scene by paramedics, came only seven days after controllers at the New York terminal radar approach control center (TRACON) on Long Island were forced to remain in their workstations directing traffic while complaining of headaches, nausea and vomiting.

The controllers were required to direct large commercial airlines while struggling to remain awake for up to four hours. They were later treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.

In both cases, carbon monoxide was inadvertently allowed into the offices, and no alarms were present to alert the workers that they were inhaling toxic fumes.

According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, none of the 29 TRACON or 314 FAA facilities have central carbon monoxide alarm systems to sound alerts, while coverage by individual detectors is spotty and undocumented. While the relatively new Newark Tower, built in May 2004, has no carbon monoxide detector, the older Boston Center facility has one detector in the furnace room; however no one would hear its alarm unless they were in that room.

The slipshod approach toward carbon monoxide detectors in airports and towers contrasts sharply with numerous states and municipalities, such as New York and New York City, that require installation of carbon monoxide detectors in dwelling units for the safety of inhabitants.

In response to this critical lapse, Schumer today sent a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee requesting that a provision requiring the FAA to install a carbon monoxide alarms in all FAA Air Traffic Control facilities be inserted in this year's FAA reauthorization bill. Today the bill is being marked  up in preparation to be sent to the floor.

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