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Carbon monoxide poisoning dangers

February 1, 2012
The Daily News

Last month, five people suspected of being made ill from carbon monoxide fumes were evacuated from a home outside Grand Rapids in West Michigan.

Authorities believe the problem stems from a gas fireplace.

On Tuesday, occupants of a home in Kingsford were evacuated after high levels of carbon monoxide were found in their residence.

Kingsford Public Safety Department responded to a residence for a carbon monoxide alarm at 10:55 a.m. on Tuesday.

After officers located high levels of carbon monoxide in the residence, occupants were evacuated and the residence was ventilated.

A furnace repair service was contacted to fix the problem.

Michigan's carbon monoxide poisoning tracking system counted 39 unintentional deaths and 1,340 non-fatal unintentional carbon monoxide poisonings in Michigan in 2009 alone.

More than 60 percent occurred during the winter months and happened most frequently at home.

Carbon monoxide poisoning claims an estimated 2,100 to 6,000 lives yearly and is so deadly that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Journal of the American Medical Association, it is the No. 1 cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the U.S.

Carbon dioxide is created by the incomplete combustion of any burning fuel, such as natural gas, liquid propane gas, gasoline, kerosene, oil, coal, wood charcoal and even tobacco.

At moderate levels, people may have severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated or faint.

Carbon monoxide can be deadly if these levels persist for a long enough time.

Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health.

Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses, you may not think suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.

A real health hazard is created if nothing is done to correct the problem.

Studies show that between 3 and 5 percent of emergency room patients complaining of flu-like symptoms actually had carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a minimum of 10,000 Americans are affected by carbon monoxide poisoning every year, including illness, brain and/or heart damage.

Many times, the cause can be attributed to improperly used or malfunctioning equipment, aggravated by building construction improvements, which limit the amount of fresh air flowing into a home or other structure.

When appliances and vents work properly, and there is enough fresh air in the home to allow complete combustion, the trace amounts of carbon monoxide produced are typically not dangerous.

Normally, carbon monoxide is safely vented outside the home.

Problems arise when something goes wrong.

An appliance can malfunction, a furnace heat exchanger can crack, vents can clog or debris may block a chimney or flue.

Fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, charcoal grills or gas logs can produce unsafe levels of carbon monoxide if they are unvented or not properly vented.

Exhaust can seep into the home from vehicles left running in an attached garage.

All these sources can attribute contribute to a carbon monoxide problem in the home.

In some cases, problems arise even if appliances are working properly.

The following conditions can trap exhaust in the home:

- Incomplete combustion. Fuel burning appliances need fresh air for complete combustion. If several appliances run at the same time in a well-insulated home, they "compete" for the available fresh air. If the fresh air supply gets low, appliances recirculate each other's exhaust instead of venting carbon monoxide outside.

- Negative indoor air pressure. When exhaust fans run, they lower the indoor air pressure. If the indoor air pressure gets lower than the outdoor air pressure, the air flow in chimneys and vets can reverse, pulling exhaust containing carbon monoxide back into the home.

- Loose vent pipes. Vibrations can shake vent pipes loose from gas dryers,furnaces or water heaters, preventing carbon monoxide from being vented outside properly.

- Blocked vents. Heavy snowfall and ice can block vents that normally allow carbon monoxide and other exhaust gases to exit the home, trapping carbon monoxide inside. Strong wind or rain can knock chimney caps out of place.

- Downdrafting. Cold flue pipes can prevent proper drafting and contribute to downdrafting, a dangerous air pressure imbalance. Downdrafting occurs when carbon monoxide and other gases that normally exit the home through flues and chimneys are forced back into the home by stronger outdoor air pressure.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, experts recommend installing at least one carbon monoxide detector in the home.

If you should ever experience or suspect the presence of carbon monoxide, remain calm but act quickly with the following suggested actions:

- Call 9-1-1 or your local fire department.

- Evacuate the premises immediately. Get everyone outside into the fresh air.

- Do not re-enter the home until help has arrived.

In a non-emergency situation:

- Open windows and doors to vent the area.

- Turn off all flame burning appliances or devices.

- Seek medical attention to confirm carbon monoxide poisoning.

- Locate and correct sources that are producing carbon monoxide.

 
 

 

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