Carbon Monoxide Risks Are Year Round

Carbon monoxide risks do not disappear with summer, as fuel burning appliances can poison anytime of year, even outside. Detectors continue to be a must as with awareness of the presence of exhaust from power tools and vehicles.

By Rebecca Martin

Following the plethora of warnings over carbon monoxide dangers in winter, one might assume that these dangers diminish as the warmer weather approaches. However, carbon monoxide risks in warmer weather continue because fuel-burning machinery and devices are part of our everyday lives; from home to work to school to recreation and beyond.

carbon monoxide risks

Carbon monoxide risks are not eliminated in warm weather because we are still operating machines that emit carbon monoxide and Carbon monoxide levels can still concentrate in dangerous levels.

Wherever fuel-burning devices are in use, the potential for carbon monoxide risks are there regardless of the season. Approximately 430 people die and at least 4000 are hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning annually. 50,000 Americans visit emergency rooms due to carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms every year.

Part 1: Carbon Monoxide Risks at Home and in Vehicles

Most of the country is still turning furnaces on and off as spring temperatures fluctuate. Any time one has fuel burning devices such as furnaces, hot water heaters, gas stoves and gas fireplaces the risk for malfunction exists. The logical first step is to invest in carbon monoxide detectors, whether these are required by local codes or not.

Recently the Washington Post covered a story of a family impacted by what turned out to be carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a loose clamp on their furnace.

Over several weeks at the end of 2020 the entire family experienced symptoms which doctors and numerous tests could not explain. Covid is often the first thing we suspect when encountering diffuse symptoms these days. After all tests returned negative for the most obvious causes: purchasing and turning on a carbon monoxide detector at the suggestion of a family relative gave an immediate answer to the cause of the numerous complaints of nausea, vomiting, extreme headaches and other carbon monoxide symptoms. The alarm sounded. In this case there was an existing carbon monoxide detector in place in their 162-year-old home, but it had been installed years earlier as part of the whole fire prevention system. The fire department was called and immediately the presence of carbon monoxide was discovered and traced to its source which turned out to be a furnace leaking the invisible gas throughout the home. The family members were tested at the scene and all had elevated levels of carbon monoxide poisoning.

One point raised by this story is that not only is it important for those homeowners and renters to have carbon monoxide detectors in place in accordance to safety recommendations. It is also imperative that these CO detection devices are checked regularly and maintained. The life expectancy of CO detectors is never more than ten years, and in some cases as short as five. Check the manufacturer/expiration date on these devices.

One of the stories this past week was regarding the recall of two combination fire/carbon monoxide alarms manufactured by Universal Security Instruments. Approximately 8000 units (No. MPC322S has 10-year sealed batteries and manufacturing date code 2017JUN09. No. MPC122S is a hardwired alarm with 10-year sealed battery backup and manufacturing date code 2017JUN02.) In two separate instances the alarms had failed to warn of elevated levels of carbon monoxide, fortunately no fatalities resulted from this failure to alarm.

It is also vital to be aware of the dangers of running vehicles. I realize that we have been cautioned regarding a running vehicle in the winter, but somehow the potential for danger is not emphasized during other times of year. It is always dangerous to leave a car running in an open or closed garage. The same factors come into play regarding backdrafts and other atmospheric forces which can fill a vehicle quickly, even with the windows rolled down, even with the garage door open.  During the hot summer months we are just as likely to sit in a car with the air conditioning running for long periods of time.

At the end of March 2022, 25-year-old Kellye Canty and her 10-month-old son lost their lives in a parking structure in Detroit. They were waiting for a family member undergoing a medical procedure at the DMC Hospital. When hours had passed and no one in the family had heard from Kellye, a desperate search began. Kellye’s husband, a former corrections officer, discovered the pair unresponsive in the vehicle. The mother and child were pronounced dead at the hospital. Contributing to the build-up of carbon monoxide in the vehicle was a broken muffler channeling the gas back towards the car.

Carbon monoxide risks can exist in your vehicle due to faulty exhaust systems, faulty ventilation systems or emissions from other vehicles. Idling your car in hot weather with the air conditioning running can overheat your vehicle more quickly as well. Modern cars do not need to idle for more than 30 seconds to one minute. Although it is not generally considered dangerous to let your car run in the open–one does have to take into account the atmospheric conditions, the condition of the vehicle and the number of vehicles in a given area. The fact remains, any time there is a fuel-burning device, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is there.

We have also talked before about keyless ignitions and the particular dangers involved in their use, particularly for the elderly or those hearing impaired.

Lawn Mowers Emit Dangerous Levels of CO

The same goes for any fuel burning device used around the home. Running any device in an enclosed area or adjacent to air intake sources for the home can be dangerous. No gas-powered device should be run in a garage, door open or not. This includes, generators, grills, leaf blowers, or any other type of device designed to be used outdoors. In fact the carbon monoxide risk involved with the use of some gas-powered yard maintenance equipment is showing up as a potential neurologic danger to small children. Research is pointing to short periods of exposure to carbon monoxide may result in disruptions at much lower levels than we formerly believed.

Remember: Your lawn mower has the same engine on it that portable electric generators have on them. Those machines produce up to 90,000 ppm in the exhaust. If you are running them outside, that level of CO can still create a carbon monoxide risk, especially if the exhaust does freely flow away from where the person who is operating the machine is breathing.

Just as legislators begin to look at the sustainability of gas-powered homes in the future, many are questioning the use of gas-powered devices in general.

Hire Professionals to Manage Carbon Monoxide Risks

Individual home owners can act to ensure their family’s safety by following recommendations for carbon monoxide detectors and adhering to an industry recommended inspection schedule for all fuel-powered appliances and devices on their property. Renters and boarders may have to rely on legislation and oversight agencies to seek compliance with safety measures for occupants. In some cases, landlords may avoid or neglect compliance and only legislation, enforcement and sometimes litigation can address those shortcomings. We have come a long way but there is a very long way to go.

To be continued…Warm weather brings hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. Disaster preparedness.

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