What has no smell, no taste, and no color? What kills hundreds of people each year, including adults, pregnant women, and children? What causes many thousands to be hospitalized? What is difficult to diagnose because of its many symptoms, many of them similar to the common flu? What results in newspaper and television headlines like these throughout the year?
Lancaster,Ohio: Man dead.
Logan,Ohio: Man dead in car.
Columbus,Ohio: Two dead.
Vancouver British Columbia: One-hundred children and adults sent to hospitals.
The answer is carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide poisoning. Between 1990 and 1999, more than 500 people died of carbon monoxide poisoning. More than half of all carbon monoxide incidents occur in our homes. The common factors whether in homes, schools, or businesses in these illnesses and deaths are fireplaces and gas-using appliances.
Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of burning organic materials, including non-gas fuels such as coal, wood, oil and paraffin. Poisoning results from faulty heating systems, improper installations, poor ventilation, or improperly using appliances. Some poisonings and deaths occur when outdoor appliances are brought inside to heat homes during emergencies or to supplement traditional heating systems during extreme cold spells. In one unusual case, death was caused when a person used a charcoal grill in his bathroom while relaxing in a whirlpool bathtub.
Many lives could be saved and injuries prevented if the public knew both how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and how to recognize the symptoms. Common symptoms include headache, dizziness, irritability, confusion and memory loss, disorientation, nausea and vomiting, abnormal reflexes, difficulty in coordination, breathing difficulty and chest pain.
If many household members or co-workers have the same symptoms at the same time, carbon monoxide poisoning should be one of the suspect causes. Prolonged exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide, or short-term exposure to high levels, can result in coma, physical injury and death. Those most at risk include the elderly, pregnant women, newborn and young children, and those with compromised immune systems, such HIV infection or major surgery.
These illnesses and deaths can be easily prevented by installing carbon monoxide alarms. Safety officials recommend a digital model that can determine the carbon monoxide content in the air, which provides both a visual and audible warning. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, turn off all heating appliances, open doors and windows, move any victims to fresh air, and contact emergency personnel and your utility company.
Your local Certified Home Inspector, Mark H Roe of BeSure Home Inspection Service and the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors recommends the following:
Have appliances checked each year by a competent professional, preferably before the heating season.
Ensure that your home is properly ventilated. Never block vents, doors or windows. Multi-pane vinyl windows are susceptible to excessive sticking if not opened regularly, so open all windows weekly to be sure that they can be opened easily in an emergency. Have fireplaces and chimneys cleaned and inspected yearly.
Have carbon monoxide alarms installed in bedrooms, each floor of multi-story buildings, and in any cozy rooms where one might fall asleep, such as a den with a fireplace, comfortable chair and audio/visual systems.
Buy carbon monoxide alarms with a minimum sensitivity of 30 ppm and with no time delay.
Install at least two carbon monoxide alarms to provide backup protection if one fails. Some carbon monoxide alarms can be plugged into electric outlets.
Write your local, state, and federal legislators and ask them to sponsor legislation requiring both carbon monoxide alarms and smoke alarms whenever real estate is transferred to a new owner.
Remember: You can't see it, smell it, or taste it! So have carbon monoxide alarms installed to detect it. They can save your life and the lives of your loved ones.
Before Lighting a Fire
The nights are getting colder, and you're thinking about lighting a cozy fire. Read the information below before you strike that match. Although you might be thinking about using your fireplace to cut down on your heating bills, many fireplaces can actually remove more heat from a house than they produce. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a typical vertical-back fireplace with an open front is at best 10 percent efficient in converting fuel to energy and delivering it to a room. The rest of your fuel dollars escape up the chimney. Fireplaces pull cold air into the house from small gaps around windows and doors. Also, most fireplaces are inappropriately situated on exterior walls. The large mass of masonry that makes up most fireplaces are poor thermal insulators and readily conduct room heat to the outdoors in cold weather. One simple and very inexpensive tip is to use flue sealers. Even brand-new dampers may not close tightly or become warped after the first hot fire. They may even be installed incorrectly. You can use inflatable draft stoppers that you insert into the flue and inflate when not using your fireplace. The web site states that a less expensive solution is to use an old foam rubber seat cushion or pillow: Place it in a heavy plastic bag, and insert this into the flue. Be careful with this, though-attach a long red tail to it to remind you it's there so you remove it before building a fire. Wood-burning appliances and fireplaces also may emit large quantities of air pollutants that can jeopardize health. Wood smoke contains hundreds of chemical compounds, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, organic gases, and particulates. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no color and no odor. It replaces oxygen in the blood, leading to suffocation and probable death. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that particles released from fuels that are not completely burned can irritate or damage lung tissue. These pollutants attach to microscopic particles that are inhaled and carried deep into the lungs, where they are lodged, causing extensive damage. Particles from combustion as well as other airborne particles can cause or contribute to asthma and restrictive airway diseases. Try out the new Java-Log made from recycled coffee grounds. Voted one of Time magazine's Coolest Inventions of 2003, the logs burn up to three hours, save trees, and have a faint, sweet aroma rather than the chemical smell associated with most manufactured logs. According to testing from Omni Consulting Service, the logs have significantly fewer emissions than firewood-96 percent less residue after combustion, 85 percent less carbon monoxide, 86 percent less creosote deposits, and 31 percent less particulate matter.