UWM carbon monoxide leak; loophole in building code, attorney says

Four hundred students were evacuated – 17 hospitalized – after a carbon monoxide leak at a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee residence hall on Monday night, Feb. 28.

UWM said building code does not require carbon monoxide detectors for the residence hall. Meanwhile, personal injury Attorney Randy Rozek, who specializes in carbon monoxide poisoning cases, told FOX6 News there is a loophole that state lawmakers need to address before more people get sick. 

"Carbon Monoxide is odorless, colorless – can’t see it or taste it," Rozek said.

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Rozek has been closely following the aftermath of the leak at UWM's Cambridge Commons. He is talking with two families about legal action.

"It’s a residential building – and the statute requires carbon monoxide detectors," said Rozek.

"Because of the building code, it doesn’t require for residence halls to have detectors," said Kelly Haag, UWM's vice chancellor for student affairs.

So who's right?

UWM said the leak came from a basement steam boiler. The law requiring carbon monoxide detectors applies to buildings with gas boilers, which typically produce more carbon monoxide. That is how Rozek believes the building was considered up to code.

"Any levels that are so high – even if we go to a residential home, or a dormitory – even if it’s at a low percentage, we want to evacuate people right away," said Milwaukee Fire Lt. Lorenzo Williams.

CO leak detected at Cambridge Commons, Milwaukee (Credit: Incident Response)

The Milwaukee Fire Department would not address code violations. The Department of Neighborhood Services said it was doing a follow-up inspection Friday. 

UWM said it installed carbon monoxide detectors, which went off the next day while testing the steam boiler. UWM said it checked the building, and cleared it of carbon monoxide.

UWM's Cambridge Commons residence hall

The University of Wisconsin System is reviewing its carbon monoxide detector code compliance.

FOX6 reached out to other area universities. Marquette University said "all campus buildings have carbon monoxide detection systems in place." In Kenosha, a Carthage College spokeswoman said alarms are installed in residential buildings there, too.

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"Any residential living facility should have working CO detectors. The legislation we have now is not adequate," Rozek said.

FOX6 called state lawmakers who sponsored the law requiring carbon monoxide detectors, but did not immediately hear back.

The Department of Neighborhood Services said its inspectors report on UWM will not be available until next week.

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