The road to Mecklenburg County's Carbon Monoxide (CO) Health Regulation began unfortunately with a multiple death elevating the community's awareness of risk from CO.
On June 24, 1999, in a condominium near downtown Charlotte, a resident apparently returns for the evening, pulls a car in the garage, closes the garage door and fails to turn off the quiet running car. The car runs for an undetermined length of time before activating the sprinkler system in the garage. The Charlotte Fire Department responds, finding the resident and a roommate dead from CO. In the adjacent unit, two other people also die of CO. Two doors away, 3 residents display symptoms and are treated for CO poisoning.
In the aftermath of the incident, Code Officials are asked to inspect construction and note any obvious code deficiencies, but there are none. In fact, the construction appears very tight with intact fire separations. Nonetheless, 4 people are dead from CO. The local newspaper notes CO alarms would have prevented the deaths. A local developer calls for regulations requiring the installation of CO alarms.
As fire and code officials continue to work on incident follow up, they realize they just don't know enough about carbon monoxide. They begin digging and uncover some sobering facts.
- CO is a silent killer; it is colorless, odorless and tasteless, making it difficult for the public to know when they are at risk.
- CO is the largest cause of poisoning deaths in the US, with over 3,800 fatalities attributed to Carbon Monoxide poisoning annually.
- In addition, negative health effects from CO can build up over time, causing permanent damage to the brain, heart and other areas of the body.
- CO poisoning is often misdiagnosed for other illnesses, such as colds, flu or food poisoning.
A national expert, Dr. Tom Greiner from Iowa State University is retained by the CO Team and on December 4, 1999 a day long CO seminar is held in Mecklenburg County for 50 local fire and code officials. Dr. Greiner's presentation is both informative and compelling. The session closes with an intense case study of what may have happened in the Charlotte condominium, underscoring the lethal nature of CO. Seminar participants leave with a troubled awareness of the extreme risk CO poisoning presents.
Three weeks later, the CO Team reconvenes with a challenge and question to itself; in light of the Greiner Seminar, what action is appropriate? After lengthy debate, the team settles on a 5 part strategy all members agree to advance. The key elements of the strategy are:
Public Information: elevate public awareness of the danger of CO,
Physician Information: elevate physician awareness of CO symptom misdiagnosis,
CFD/MCFM: investigate risks to fire investigators on cold fire sites,
Mechanical Contractors: address the need for skilled CO mechanical service technicians,
Alarm requirement: propose a county wide Carbon Monoxide alarm requirement.
In January and February, 2000 the CO Team continues to meet to advance individual parts of the strategy. PS&I personnel and contract media support come on board to help shape the public information and physician awareness sides of the effort. Fire officials begin research on fire sites, eventually confirming in certain conditions there is a risk from CO presence; plans are made to acquire detection equipment and adopt procedures to preclude exposure to high CO levels.
Shortly thereafter, the CO team approaches the local Mechanical Contractors Association to advance a CO training course for mechanical service staff. Advanced Energy is retained as an experienced CO educator, subsequently holding dual class and field training sessions. Twenty-one contractors complete the CO mechanical training course and qualify for listing as a homeowner resource on residences with CO problems requiring diagnosis.
With 4 parts of the 5 parts in the works, CO Team members turn to the 3rd rail of the strategy, the county-wide CO alarm requirement. In March, 2000, meetings begin in earnest with the Mecklenburg County Attorney, Marvin Bethune, to shape an effective ordinance strategy. Mr. Bethune suggests a county-wide Health Regulation as one possible avenue. Health Department officials are approached, express interest and shortly thereafter join the CO Team. With the final team now intact, the group sets off on a 6 month odyssey, culminating in the 9/6/2000 BOCC approval of the Mecklenburg County Health Regulation Governing Carbon Monoxide Alarms.
- In March, a CO Story is shaped, explaining the CO risk, symptoms, and basic steps to take to prevent poisoning. In addition, the story highlights 8 case studies of CO deaths or poisoning.
- On June 20, the Building Development Commission (BDC, advisory board to the E&BS) receives a presentation by the CO Team on the need for a county-wide CO Health Regulation. The BDC unanimously supports the concept.
- In June and July, the CO Team negotiates with industry representatives over concerns they have on the initial ordinance draft. REBIC, CAA and realtors express concern regarding:
- for sale requirements
- implementation of timing
- c) scope of coverage (all electrical requirements)
- In July, CO Team members confirm Charlotte Housing Authority plans for CO alarms, including the installation of CO alarms in all authority managed or owned units with fossil fuel burning appliances, by March 31, 2001.
- On August 29, CO Team members reach an agreement with the industry on a revised scope for CO alarm requirements. The industry publicly supports the proposed regulation based on the revisions to the rule.
- On September 6, 2000, the BOCC engages in a 1 hour debate on the CO Alarms Health Regulation. At the conclusion, the proposed Regulation passes by a 7-1 vote.