Friday, 11 November 2011 00:00
Known as the “Silent Killer,” carbon monoxide, commonly called CO, is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America, according to Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, who urges residents to take an inventory of their home to ensure they are protected against this potentially lethal substance and outlined some simple steps residents can take to protect themselves and their loved ones.
“Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and it can kill,” Venditto warned. “This is the most dangerous time of year for carbon monoxide deaths because furnaces and heaters are being turned on for the first time and houses are closed up as the cold weather settles in. It’s now that blocked chimneys, defective heaters and other hazards can cause a deadly build-up of carbon monoxide, which, when inhaled by humans, causes confusion and lethargy, followed by a loss of consciousness and death.
“Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels…gas, oil, coal and wood…used in oil and gas burners, solid fuel appliances, wood stoves and fireplaces, gas water heaters, boilers and engines,” Venditto explained. “Dangerous amounts of CO can accumulate when, as a result of poor insulation, poor maintenance, improper installation or damage to an appliance, the fuel is not burned properly or when rooms are poorly ventilated and the carbon monoxide is unable to escape.
“First, check the flame color of your gas appliances,” the supervisor stated. “The flame should be blue. If it is orange, you have a problem, and the appliance should be checked by a professional. As a rule of thumb, you should have your appliances, as well as your heating system, chimneys and flues, inspected annually and, if needed, cleaned, by a qualified technician.
“Make sure your house is adequately ventilated. Check your air bricks or trickle vents. If the appliances in your home do not have enough air, carbon monoxide will build up.
“Do not use stoves or ovens to heat your home. Install and use an exhaust fan vented to the outside over gas stoves. Do not burn coal in either a wood stove or fireplace. Be sure the flue is open when using a fireplace. If you use a wood stove, make sure the doors fit tightly. Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters, and do not use unvented kerosene or gas heaters in enclosed spaces.
“Never leave a car, lawn mower or snow blower idling in a shed or garage or any enclosed space,” the supervisor emphasized. “This is particularly critical if you have an attached garage where fumes can find their way into your house.
“Last, but perhaps most important, purchase a CO detector alarm,” Venditto stated. “Effective Feb. 22, 2010, CO detectors are required in all residential homes in New York State under ‘Amanda’s Law,’ named for 16-year-old Amanda Hansen, who died on Jan. 17, 2009, due to a carbon monoxide leak from a defective boiler while she was sleeping at a friend’s house. Under the law, homes built before Jan. 1, 2008, are permitted to have battery-powered CO alarms, while homes built after this date are required to have the alarms hard-wired into the building. Additionally, ‘Amanda’s Law’ requires contractors in New York State to install a CO alarm when replacing a hot water tank or furnace if the home is not equipped with an alarm. Detectors must be listed and labeled as complying with UL 2034 or CAN/CSA 6.19. They should also have a long-term warranty and be easily self-tested and reset to ensure proper functioning. While a detector does not replace the need to implement the steps I have outlined, it will give you and your family an added margin of safety against CO poisoning.”
The supervisor noted that residents should be aware of the symptoms of CO poisoning, which include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. If you have any of these symptoms and believe they are being caused by CO exposure, call your fire department and then leave your house. DO NOT open windows and doors for more ventilation or turn off any combustion appliances in your home. This will allow the fire department to get an accurate CO reading in your home. Seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis and treatment of your symptoms.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 500 people die each year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning and as many as 20,000 end up in hospital emergency rooms for exposure,” Venditto commented. “By taking a few simple precautions and installing a CO detector alarm in your home, you will be able to sleep easier knowing that you and your loved ones are protected against this silent threat.”