Schaumburg officials last year learned the hard way about a danger to hookah lounges they hadn't previously considered: carbon monoxide poisoning.
After three medical emergencies in 2018 were triggered by excessive carbon monoxide levels, Schaumburg officials now may require all six hookah lounges in the village to implement a safety system common in some industrial businesses.
"This is an area that had not been thought about, honestly," Schaumburg Fire Chief Jim Walters said. "We look at what our (emergency) responses are. This caught our attention."
The fire department recommended the lounges install alarms that would automatically activate their ventilation systems when carbon monoxide levels exceed the legal limit. The village's public safety committee supported the idea, and the village board will consider it on Jan. 22.
Trustee George Dunham said it was easy to recommend the fire department's proposal in light of carbon monoxide reaching nearly five times the permitted level in some cases.
"That's just not right," Dunham said.
Walters said the Environmental Protection Agency has defined the highest acceptable level of carbon monoxide in the air at 35 parts per million. But during last year's three medical calls to hookah lounges, carbon monoxide levels were measured at about 170 parts per million.
The three calls involved only one person each, and all ultimately recovered. But two of them had to go to the hospital first, Walters said.
Higher carbon monoxide levels in hookah lounges can be caused by the burning of charcoal used to heat the tobacco in the hookahs, Walters said.
The type of carbon monoxide alarm the village is considering requiring is already manufactured for industrial businesses where fossil fuels are burned. Walters said it was the idea of Schaumburg Fire Marshall Michael Rons that these alarms could be equally useful in nonindustrial hookah lounges.
The three hookah lounges that had carbon monoxide-related medical calls in 2018 were Arabian Nights, Fumare and Inferno. The village's other three -- which would be equally affected by the proposed regulation -- are X Hale, Aria and Milan.
After one of last year's calls, the manager of the business told fire officials the ventilation system had been turned off because it tended to dry out the air too much.
But Schaumburg officials say the proposed alarms would ensure ventilation systems are on when needed and not leave that up to an employee.
The estimated cost of the alarms is about $1,500, and the village intends to work out a reasonable time frame for installation -- perhaps six to 12 months, Walters said.
Violations in either installing or maintaining the alarms would be handled by the village's adjudication system, which can issue fines from $100 to $50,000 based on the level and length of noncompliance with a local law.
No representatives of the village's hookah lounges attended Thursday's public safety committee meeting or have yet provided any feedback on the proposed requirement, Walters said.
Schaumburg began to permit hookah lounges in 2006, the same year it became among the first Illinois communities to ban indoor smoking.
The apparently contradictory policy changes were handled by prohibiting alcohol and limiting food options at hookah lounges -- measures that were seen as ways of reducing the businesses' appeal to nonsmokers.