Silent Killer

As it gets colder, gas stoves, fireplaces and fuel-burning space heaters are lit in households that can no longer afford to heat the traditional way.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s web site (http://www.cpsc.gov), 170 people die every year due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning from items like gas stoves, improperly ventilated fireplaces, space heaters, water heaters and malfunctioning furnaces, which can all cause high levels of carbon monoxide.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that can cause sudden illness and death in homes.

“People try anything and everything to heat their homes”, said Port Huron fire inspector Captain Mark White.

According to White, January and February are the peak months for CO incidents.

In 2010 the Port Huron Fire Dept. responded to 20 calls for carbon monoxide with only seven of those showing elevated levels due to problems with the furnace, water heater or oven.

White says this is significantly reduced from last year, where they responded to 4,161 calls for CO (carbon monoxide). In additions to the CO calls, White explained they also watch for illegal hook-ups.

If natural gas is disconnected for non-payment, residents will find ways to bypass the meter and obtain gas through other means. The resulting different level of gas pressure is dangerous, said White.

CO is created when charcoal, wood, coal, propane, oil, kerosene or natural gas are burned.

White said exposure to high levels of CO cause flu-like symptoms and food poisoning. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath. White said “extremely high levels can cause death within minutes.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests the following safety tips.

  • Never operate a portable generator or gasoline powered tool indoors, or enclosed spaces such as garages, and out buildings. Even with open windows, these spaces can trap Co and build to lethal levels quickly.
  • Never burn charcoal in a tent, garage or home.
  • Install a CO alarm that meets current UL 2034 safety standards.
  • If you or anyone you know suspects you have been exposed to CO, leave the affected area immediately. Treat it as a fire and do not take belongings with you. Call 911 from another location.

If you are struggling to make your heat payments, visit the following websites for information. See http://www.michigan.gov/heatingassistance and Thaw the Heat and Warmth Fund at:  http://www.thawfund.org/ for further information.

Twana Pinskey

Editor-in-Chief

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