Church of God Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Survivors at Risk of Long Term Brain Damage

In yesterday’s blog about the Iowa church carbon monoxide poisoning, we mentioned that the 20 survivors of carbon monoxide poisoning may have a worse outcome than those who survived the shooting the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas on the same day. The headlines all went to the horrific event in Texas but those who survived the Church of God carbon monoxide poisoning may face worse long term prospects than those who are in surgery for gunshot wounds.

Church of God carbon monoxide poisoning

This warning label on a portable electric generator isn’t sufficient to prevent tragedies such as the Church of God carbon monoxide poisoning.

Statistically, at least 40 per cent of those who survive carbon monoxide poisoning are likely to have ongoing problems, most of which can be directly attributed to brain damage.  The Church of God carbon monoxide poisoning survivors not only have to overcome the direct effects of lack of oxygen to their brains and other vital organs, but they must also fight off the long-term effects of the poisoning.

Double Trouble for Church of God Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Survivors

Hypoxia is the technical term for what happens when the cells in the body are deprived of oxygen. Inhaling carbon monoxide deprives the body of oxygen because carbon monoxide will take the place of oxygen in the hemoglobin. Thus, when blood is circulated to the cells, carboxyhemoglobin instead of oxygen will reach the cells, potentially strangling the cells for oxygen. When the concentration of carbon monoxide in the blood reaches above 40%, the heart will often stop. This is the cause of death in most cases.

But if the heart doesn’t stop from lack of oxygen, the person exposed to carbon monoxide will likely survive. Too often it is thought that this ends the risk factors, but it does not. What is also happening in addition to the hypoxia risk, is the bodies defensive reaction to the poison. Like a bee sting can cause the body to have an over-reaction such as anaphylactic shock, the body can also over-react to this poison and cause more damage than the initial lack of oxygen.

For the 20 Church of God carbon monoxide poisoning survivors, it is not Sunday’s illness that is critical, but the illness that will linger and perhaps get stronger over the next days and weeks. The illness, often referred to as Delay Neurological Syndrome or DNS, happens to in excess of 40% of the people exposed to carbon monoxide. For more on DNS, click here. As the levels in the Marshalltown Church of God were so high, at least 8 of those exposed can be expected to have permanent brain damage.

We have been crusading to force the manufacturers of portable electric generators to reduce the emissions in these dangerous products for this entire year. I testified in front of the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission about the need to reduce the carbon monoxide emissions from portable electric generators in March. Yet, that federal regulations have stalled because of industry pressure. Only lawsuits can force change.

Portable electric generators emit hundreds of times more carbon monoxide than an equivalent car. Cars reduced carbon monoxide emissions by 99% over the last two generations, but portable electric generators have not reduced emissions. Running an electric generator in a basement of the Church of God is equivalent to running several hundred 2017 cars and pumping all that exhaust into the church.

Generator manufacturers have a duty to use modern technology to make these products safe. They refuse to do so, even though they claim to know how to do it. The death of one in the Church of God is a horrible tragedy. But we can’t only focus on that one death or even the death of 751 people over a decade. We must also focus on the 20 who survived because they may face a lifetime of disability and brain damage. Are the portable electric generators manufacturers making a calculation that they can afford the litigation over 75 deaths a year? Perhaps. But what about the 20 Church of God carbon monoxide poisoning survivors? Can they afford that litigation too?

Only lawsuits can change this calculus. Now is the time.

For more on the long term consequences for the survivors of carbon monoxide poisoning from portable electric generators, see this 2005 article. Hampson,  Am J Prev Med. 2005 Jan;28(1):123-5. Yes. That was a 2005 article. Tomorrow’s blog will discuss the 2015 updates to that research by Dr. Hampson.

Attorney Gordon Johnson


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