January 22, 2003
COLD WEATHER PROMPTS WARNING ABOUT CARBON MONOXIDE THREAT
Charlotte, NC - Cold, winter-like weather in the forecast may force many people to take extraordinary measures to keep warm. Fuel-burning space heaters, faulty furnaces and other hazards may increase the risk of exposure to potentially deadly carbon monoxide gas.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the United States, with more than 3,800 people known to die annually from CO poisoning. Young children, pregnant women, senior citizens and people with heart or respiratory problems are especially vulnerable to CO poisoning.
CO is a poison that is produced when fuels such as gasoline are burned. It can rapidly accumulate even in areas that might appear well ventilated. Because CO is colorless, tasteless, odorless and non-irritating, it can overcome an exposed person without warning. It frequently produces weakness and confusion, depriving the person of the ability to seek safety.
The speed at which CO can build to deadly levels was demonstrated in an experiment conducted in December with the help of the Mecklenburg County Fire Marshal's Office. In just a few minutes, a small charcoal grill placed indoors produced CO levels above 800 parts-per-million (ppm). That's a level high enough to kill a person in about an hour and a half and much higher than the 35-50ppm that will activate a consumer grade CO alarm.
Fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, gas ranges/stoves, gas clothes dryers and water heaters are all sources of CO. Fireplaces, charcoal grills, wood-burning stoves, kerosene heaters and vehicles, generators and other combustion engines running in an attached garage - even when an outside door is open-also produce CO.
It's important to provide proper ventilation when operating kerosene space heaters. Charcoal and gas grills and generators should never be used indoors or in unventilated areas. Last weekend, three patients were treated for CO exposure after a generator running in their home's crawl space produced the gas.
Mecklenburg County's CO ordinance requires that residences with fossil fuel burning furnaces or appliances, or attached garages, contain a carbon monoxide alarm. All residences must also contain a smoke alarm.
A CO detector can be purchased at local home improvement and discount stores for $20 to $50. December's power outages show the importance of having a detector that is battery powered or has a battery back up. For more information, visit the Health Department's CO poisoning prevention Web site