Looking For..?
Department Banner

 

 

 

Public Health Column for the Times-News

Be wary of carbon monoxide

Published: Wednesday, October 4, 2017

By KIM HORTON
Times-News Columnist

Whether it’s the result from the strong winds of a hurricane or from the heavy ice build-up on power lines during a winter storm, an electric power loss is an inconvenience at best.

We don’t like to be without power, so it doesn’t take long to hear the familiar, loud sound of gas-powered portable generators starting up in many neighborhoods. They can be lifesavers.

But when generators are used without proper ventilation, they become deadly. Sadly, a Henderson County man recently became North Carolina’s first Hurricane Irma victim when he lost his life from carbon monoxide poisoning. He was using a generator to power his home after severe weather knocked out electricity in the area.

Within the U.S., faulty furnaces and motor vehicles are the leading cause of CO poisoning and death, respectively. But emergency poisonings also occur in the wake of hurricanes, tornados, ice storms, floods and other severe weather events that cause destruction and power outages.

After these events, individuals often use generators, portable heaters, chainsaws and other devices for power, heat and debris removal. When used improperly, these devices lead to CO poisoning. In particular, portable generators are a small but consistent cause of CO poisoning in the United States.

Generator poisonings usually peak within two to three days after a storm hits. Many poisonings are caused by generators located outside the home, often within seven feet of the structure, near air conditioners, windows and other intake routes. Many people also place still running generators indoors or in garages overnight.

Other poisonings are caused by generators located inside garages or carports, inside the home or in sheds and basements.

Many people recognize CO gas is poisonous, but they perceive it as less dangerous than other household hazards. But every year, approximately 450 people in the United States die from CO exposure and thousands visit hospital emergency rooms for treatment (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).

In North Carolina in 2015, six people died from unintentional, non-fire related CO poisoning.

The victims range in age from 27 to 85. and half the deaths occurred during the summer. Most of the deaths were caused by operating fuel-burning devices in an enclosed area without adequate ventilation.

The danger is that CO is a colorless and odorless gas that can kill without warning. It’s emitted from furnaces, automobiles, stoves, portable generators, gas ranges, charcoal, firewood and other products when they malfunction or are used improperly. Any use of alternative sources of power in enclosed places can produce CO. In a home, garage, car or camper, CO can build up to deadly levels unnoticed.

Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning or death from CO exposure. However, unborn babies, children, the elderly and individuals with existing upper-respiratory conditions are at greater risk for illness or death. Also, people who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever becoming aware of the symptoms.

The installation of a CO detector is perhaps the most effective step for protecting household occupants. It serves as an early warning device, notifying occupants of CO before it escalates to a dangerous level. Install battery-operated CO detectors on every level of your home and near every sleeping area.

Check your CO detectors regularly to be sure they are functioning properly. If CO poisoning occurs, homes without detectors are likely to have CO levels nearly five times higher than those homes with detectors by the time of emergency response.

Following these important steps can keep your family safe:

• Never use a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent inside your home or garage, even if doors and windows are open.

• Do not use a charcoal grill, lantern, or propane stove indoors, even in a fireplace.

• Do not use a gas range or oven to heat your home, even for a short time.

• Do not idle your car or truck in the garage, even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up quickly in the garage and living area of your home.

Initially, CO poisoning can resemble the flu with symptoms of headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. If you believe you’re experiencing these symptoms, get fresh air immediately. Open windows and doors for ventilation. Turn off any combustible appliances and leave the building.

Call 911 or have someone take you to a hospital emergency room and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning. If you do nothing, you could lose consciousness and die.

What you can’t see, smell or hear can harm your family. However, CO illness and death is preventable. As the temperatures start to drop, now is the time to be sure your family is protected from carbon monoxide. For more information, visit hendersoncountync.org/health and click on the CO Poisoning link.


Kim Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

Copyright © 2017 BlueRidgeNow.com — All rights reserved. Restricted use only.


Department of Public Health • 1200 Spartanburg Highway, Suite 100 • Hendersonville, NC 28792 • (828) 692-4223