Carbon monoxide is a ‘silent killer’ that can be prevented
When a Las Vegas family lost its power last week, the residents turned to the traditional backup – a gas-powered generator. The next day, the family of three and their six pets were found dead in the home from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Many people know that carbon monoxide from vehicle exhaust can kill them. But few likely realize that running a generator underneath the eaves of a home can create carbon monoxide danger, or that a dirty furnace can cause unsafe levels, as well.
The Feb. 5 deaths in Las Vegas provided a gruesome example of the unexpected danger from this silent killer, which is odorless, tasteless and invisible.
According to Jeffrey T. Kirchner in an article for The American Physician magazine, about 600 Americans die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning every year, making it one of the country’s most common causes of death by poison. Kirchner states that five to 10 times that many choose the gas as a form of suicide, most of them from vehicle exhaust.
Most people know to not run their vehicles inside a closed or even an open garage for any unnecessarily long period of time. According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people also accidentally die from carbon monoxide created from a number of items used inside, including charcoal grills, camp stoves and generators.
Dave Angove of Dave’s Generators and Electric Motor Service in Grass Valley tells customers never to use a generator indoors or directly next to a home.
“We won’t install them in a building or under a building,” Angove said, noting that county guidelines also prohibit such installation. “You shouldn’t even put a generator under the eaves of a home. It traps the fumes, and they can come right in.”
According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, running small gasoline-powered engines inside to run pumps, concrete saws, welders, compressors, generators or washers can cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
In one example given by the institute, a farmer using a high-pressure washer in his barn was overcome and died about 30 minutes after turning it on. In another, a plumber was using a concrete saw in a basement with a fan, opened doors and open windows. He got a severe headache and started acting paranoid.
According to Kirchner, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause coma, respiratory problems and decreased blood pressure. Some patients have personality changes that do not show up until three days to eight months after exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control, permanent neurological damage can also result from prolonged exposure to the gas.
Furnaces and appliances that burn fossil fuels also produce carbon monoxide. All furnaces should be cleaned every year and checked for proper ventilation and performance, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Watch for a cracked heating exchanger,” recommended Jason Antonucci, owner of Cost U Less Heating and Air in Grass Valley. “Keep the burners clean; the rust does the cracking.”
Antonucci said heating ducts should also be checked for obstructions and collapses. When those occur, “it can put back pressure on the heat exchanger and damage it,” Antonucci said. “Keep your ducts clean and free of debris.”
Antonucci also said keeping an older system clean is vital for carbon monoxide safety.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fireplace chimneys should also be kept clean to avoid carbon monoxide buildups. Water heaters and gas ranges should be checked annually for smooth operation because they can also emit the deadly gas, according to the agency.
The EPA and others recommend using carbon monoxide detector or alarms in homes and offices. Price varies, and they are readily available at a variety of area stores.
Nevada City firefighter Patrick Mason has been on calls where carbon monoxide detectors warned homeowners of dangerous levels and has a tip: “Change the batteries when you change the clock (for daylight savings time.)”
Carbon Monoxide Symptoms and Solutions
Carbon monoxide can kill or harm you quickly. The symptoms are flu-like but do not include fever. They are:
– Irregular breathing
– Nausea – Headache
– Dizziness – Fatigue
If you experience these symptoms and suspect carbon monoxide, immediately leave the building you are in and leave the doors open to let the gas escape. If you can, open other windows or doors from the outside after regaining your senses.
Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
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