The Miami University Police Department was notified by a resident that his personal carbon monoxide detector was sounding an alert. We called the Oxford Department, they detected carbon monoxide, evacuated the building, and began investigating the source. By early evening, it was clear that we would not find and repair the source of the carbon monoxide in time for students to return to the hall to sleep. More than 250 students were assigned a temporary room on campus and they have just been notified that they can return to the building at their convenience.
Because Hillcrest Hall is heated by geothermal energy, we knew there was no combustion source related to heating and cooling in the building that could have caused the elevated levels. Miami University has been and continues to be in full compliance with the requirements of the state fire code for the facility. Our physical facilities department staff partnered with the Oxford Fire Department to investigate throughout the night. The source of the carbon monoxide was ultimately identified as exhaust from a hot water heater that is used to heat the water for showers and faucets. Under some conditions, the exhaust was pulled back into the building from outside through small openings in the structure of the building, which have been repaired. Both Miami’s physical facilities staff and the Oxford Fire Department have tested the building multiple times and have found no remaining carbon monoxide. We are in the process of inspecting all other residence halls on campus; thus far, no other issues have been discovered.
We have installed temporary carbon monoxide detectors in Hillcrest Hall and in an abundance of caution are determining how best to install them in all halls as a permanent system. We will provide additional information and an update on our corrective actions in future communications.
We are grateful to, and proud of, the Hillcrest students who alerted the MUPD to this situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Are all buildings being checked today to determine their CO levels?
Yes. To be safe, we are checking all campus buildings today and this weekend, prioritizing residence halls. The check of the residence halls will be completed by the end of the day today.
- Will we be installing CO monitors in all residence halls?
Yes. We have installed temporary carbon monoxide detectors in Hillcrest Hall and are determining how best to install a permanent system in our residence halls.
- Why doesn’t the OH law about CO detectors in residence hall rooms apply?
The Code requires carbon monoxide detectors for buildings with certain types of heating and cooling systems. Those types of systems are not in use in our residence halls because the combustion source is located in a central plant elsewhere on campus and piped to each hall.
We do, however, have a hot water system in several but not all residence halls. The Code requires carbon monoxide detectors when there is a combustion source, such as a hot water system where exhaust gas runs through or is directly connected to the residence hall rooms. That is not the design at Miami. The water heating unit is sealed and vented directly to the exterior of the building without going through any other areas of the building.
The problem in Hillcrest Hall was not caused by any of the carbon monoxide escaping within the building but was caused by the exhaust gas returning to the building after it was vented to the outside. Under certain conditions, the exhaust was being pulled back into the building from outside through small openings in the structure, which have now been sealed. We are taking steps to ensure that these conditions are not present in other residence halls.
- How is steam and hot water heat produced if not by something combustible?
The University uses steam and hot water produced in centralized steam and electric hot water plants to heat residence halls. The steam and heating hot water is delivered to the residence halls via underground pipes. These pipes do not carry carbon monoxide.
- Could this be why so many students have been sick this fall?
No. The upper respiratory symptoms being reported by students are not caused by carbon monoxide exposure.
- What about the gas fireplaces in some of the halls?
The fireplaces in the residence hall buildings are inoperable. The only equipment in buildings that is capable of creating carbon monoxide are the gas-fired hot water heaters, which are sealed and vented directly outside of the buildings.