Is Your Furnace Leaking Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is odorless so it is very difficult to know if your furnace is leaking carbon monoxide, which is why carbon monoxide alarms are so important. There are two types of carbon monoxide warning devices, the kind you put on the wall/ceiling and the biological kind, a human or other mammal. The human kind of carbon monoxide warning device gets sick when exposed to carbon monoxide, with a wide variety of flu-like ailments, including nausea, vomiting, headache, light headedness, dizziness or shortness of breath. But as the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning so closely resemble the flu (and now COVID 19) that alone will rarely raise a human alarm. In some cases, the other biological warning device, your pets, will sound the alarm sooner. The reason pets sound the alarm sooner is that they can smell the unburned hydrocarbons in the furnace exhaust before humans.

If Your Furnace is Leaking Carbon Monoxide You Could be Feeling Ill

If you are feeling quite ill it could be because your furnace is leaking carbon monoxide. If you illness coincides with others in the same space getting sick within the same half hour period, get out of the environment and sort it out later as to what is causing the illness. Trying to sort it out while you are in the environment increases the load of carbon monoxide on your body. Further, if the levels are high, you might pass out before you leave. 911 should always be called after you are in fresh air, for the same reason the airlines always warn you to first put your oxygen mask first before helping others. Once you are unconscious, you are helpless. That means don’t take the time to air out the apartment. Don’t open the windows and doors, just escape.

Check Levels with Sensitive Carbon Monoxide Detector

Only if you are not ill go get a detector that reads the amount of CO with a digital readout, like the one to the shown here.

Furnace Leaking Carbon Monoxide

Ways to tell if your furnace is leaking carbon monoxide if you are not feeling ill include getting a sensitive carbon monoxide alarm with a digital readout.

Other ways that you might increase your level of suspicion that a furnace is leaking carbon monoxide is to look at the furnace (without touching it.)

  • How old is the furnace? There is usually a visible plate on the furnace that will have a year on it.
  • Is there rust on the furnace?
  • How long has it been since it was serviced?
  • Has all of the service on this furnace been done by in-house maintenance people or have there been licensed HVAC contractors working on the unit, at least twice annually?


Inspect Chimney if Concerned Furnace is Leaking Carbon Monoxide

You can also inspect the flue pipes and the chimney. Is there discoloration on the flue? If it is rust, that is a sign of a problem. If it is black, that is the sign of an even bigger problem. Rust is evidence that the flue gases have been condensing before they leave the chimney. Condensing means that water vapor returns to a liquid form.

Black on a flue or chimney is a sign of soot. Natural gas appliances should always burn clean without any soot. Soot is unburned fuel. Carbon monoxide is caused by incomplete combustion where there isn’t enough oxygen for the amount of fuel that is to be burned. This can be caused by a number of different problems but too much fuel is always a problem and if there is so much extra fuel that you can see soot, that is a sign of a dangerous conditi

To look for soot on your chimney, from the ground level (don’t go on roofs or a ladder), see if there is any obstruction or bird’s nest near the chimney/flue. Also make sure that the chimney looks right. Is it crooked or broken? A crooked pipe may mean that the pipe inside is dislodged.

If a furnace is leaking carbon monoxide you are at risk

Anecdote: I recently stayed at an Airbnb that had a chimney that looked like this. When I first discovered this, I became extremely wary but because I had a highly sensitive CO detector which read zero, I took a bunch of pictures close up to see if it was broken. Apparently it was just a really terrible installation design of this chimney. Had I not had proof that this chimney wasn’t emitting CO, I would have called 911 and found other lodging.

Check for Obstructions in Sidewall Venting

Obstructions can be a significant problem in a newer furnace which vents out the sidewall, especially to the pipe that brings in the outside air for the furnace to burn. If the vent and combustion air pipes are on a roof, take a picture with your cell phone and examine the picture carefully.

Use your cellphone to check for obstructions in side wall furnace vent pipes. A nest or clog in either the fresh air or the combustion side can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

The pipe that is turn upwards should be the exhaust, the pipe turned downwards should be the combustion air intake. As these vent pipes are usually at ground level, it is very easy to check for obstructions. The pipe that is turned up you can see right down into. The pipe that is turned down, you can see into with your cellphone camera, as shown here. This pipe is the combustion air for your high efficiency furnace. A high efficiency furnace does not burn any of the air in the room that the furnace is in, so maintaining an unobstructed intake pipe is critical for safety.

What is the first sign of carbon monoxide poisoning?

DNS - Delayed Neurological Sequelae

What is the first sign of carbon monoxide poisoning? Something that resembles the flu, but when it happens to multiple people at once, then CO is the logical answer.

The first sign of carbon monoxide poisoning can vary from something resembling the flu, to headache to dizziness or lightheadedness. Shortness of breath is another sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. The human body is an extremely sensitive carbon monoxide detector, but the symptoms are often confused for something else.

Without a carbon monoxide alarm, there will be no way of knowing that you are getting carbon monoxide poisoning until it is too late to avoid the risk of brain damage. Most of the symptoms that will warn an individual or EMT of carbon monoxide poisoning don’t become severe enough to point to CO poisoning until the CO is already toxic. Many of these symptoms don’t become cause for serious concern until levels reach 20-30%, well above a threshold level where 40% of those poisoned will get permanent brain damage.

Attorney Gordon Johnson, author of this blog, testifying to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In our experience, it is not until multiple people faint in the same environment that carbon monoxide poisoning get seriously considered. Once the idea occurs to people, it then rapidly moves to the top of the diagnostic tree. We have been involved in a dozens of cases where groups of people were poisoned. Until the second or third person gets sick, carbon monoxide is not considered. Even in Emergency Rooms, the doctors don’t consider it until there is some additional epidemiological fact added. In one case, a little girl was in the ER for three hours before a phone call from her grandmother in the home that the utility company was there with their detectors alarming, was carbon monoxide considered. In another case, a young man was discharged from the ER only to find his other relatives being evacuated when he got home.

Case Study of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning  – Syncope Plus Odor

In a case where more than 300 people were poisoned, it was the combination of multiple people feeling ill and an odor that warned EMT’s of the risk. Here is what the fire department record said:

MS and ES were assigned to medical call for someone who fainted. The scene was at a business which is an indoor soccer field. The complex was being rented out for a wedding party with a live band playing music. MS arrived on scene with ES for a syncopal episode. There was a Wedding party with approx. 300 people in the indoor soccer area. Smell of exhaust/gas upon entering the building. While being escorted to the patient, someone mentioned to the medics about an odor in the building and reported a generator was being used. A guest stated it smelt like that in the whole building and commented about generators being used. MS initially entered the women’s bathroom where the first patient was located. ES entered and made contact with the medics who reported that this may be a CO incident.When ES arrived it was agreed that they would begin investigating the odor. MS removed the patient from the building.

ES found CO readings at 400ppm and ordered an evacuation. Once the evacuation was ordered 2 additional people approached MS feeling faint and needing treatment. MS was initially going to transport the 3. Prior to departure approx. 3 more people approached MS. MS communicated this to ES and asked for a 2nd ambulance. After asking for a 2nd ambulance multitudes of people continued to approach MS with complaints ranging from headache, nausea, vomiting and fainting. MS communicated this to ES and stated more ambulances would be necessary and that MS would be staying on scene and establishing a Treatment and Triage area by the ambulance, treating everyone for CO poisoning. ES proceeded with initiating the MCI protocol. Everyone was determined to be stable and people were provided 02 therapy. MS continued to treat pts throughout the MCI.

The exhaust gases were part of the equation. Note that EMT’s didn’t have their CO alarms with them when they entered the premises.  The oft repeated warning about carbon monoxide is that it is odorless. While the carbon monoxide is, the exhaust gases that come with carbon monoxide may not be. However, when exhaust gases can be smelled, it often represents extremely high CO levels, as what is being smelled is unburned hydrocarbons. Unburned hydrocarbons, which smell like the exhaust from a lawn mower come well after dangerous CO levels occur. The more sensitive noses that pets such as dogs and cats have, is the reason they are often the first to warn of carbon monoxide danger. If you are feeling ill and your pet is upset or agitated, seriously consider the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.

What to do if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning?

Immediately evacuate the premises. Don’t wait for EMT’s. Don’t take the time to air out the premises. Evacuate. Don’t even wait to call 911. Do this outside. The average 911 call could last several minutes. The time it takes you to do anything but evacuate could be the difference between life and death. Once the EMT’s arrive, they can investigate whether CO was the cause. They can open the windows and doors. Regardless of the weather, wait for the EMT’s outside. It is not your job to ventilate the premises or figure out where the CO was coming from.

How do I know if I have been exposed to carbon monoxide?

If you are experiencing the symptoms above, get outside of the apartment or other environment, then call a professional to help determine what is causing your symptoms. Only after you are feeling better, take affirmative steps to diagnose the problem yourself. Obviously, this advice is the wrong advice if it is only the flu, or in today’s world, COVID 19. But the reason for the greater caution if it might be carbon monoxide is that CO can be immediately deadly. If any of the following are going on in addition to flu-like symptoms, definitely get out:

  • Multiple people feeling ill with similar time of onset;
  • You do not have carbon monoxide alarms where you are;
  • You smell anything like gas or engine exhaust (think lawnmower or older car);
  • Old or poorly maintained furnaces or hot water heaters;
  • You have been using your stove or oven to supplement heat;
  • There is the sound of an engine anywhere near;
  • A car or other engine is running in your garage.

For more on what to do if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, first EVACUATE and then click here.

For more on what is the first sign of carbon monoxide poisoning? 

For more on Attorney Gordon Johnson’s Carbon Monoxide Testimony, click here.

Management Companies at Fault in Apartment Carbon Monoxide Poisonings

When a carbon monoxide poisoning happens at a larger apartment complex, the blame is usually shared between the landlord and the property manager. In most cases, the property is owned by someone other than the on-site property manager, even though the property manager may be the only one any of the tenants ever interface with. As we laid out in one of our FAQ pages here,  improper staffing levels and poor training of maintenance techs are the biggest reasons management related causes of carbon monoxide poisoning in apartment complexes.

Staffing – One Maintenance Tech per 100 Units

It is the standard in the apartment management industry that each apartment complex should have one maintenance technician (Tech) per every 100 units, plus a maintenance supervisor. Too many apartment complexes have less than that and when vacancies happen in these positions, the replacement person takes way too long to hire. Each case we get into has epic failures in terms of staffing. We have seen cases where staffing was only at 25% of what was required and other cases where techs fraudulently filled out checklists because they did not have time to do all the work required.

What is Routine Maintenance of a Furnace in an Apartment Complex?

What is considered routine maintenance is handled in-house on most large scale properties. The problem is that furnaces require more than routine maintenance. The older the furnace gets, the more non-routine maintenance is required. If an apartment complex is understaffed, there isn’t enough time to do more than change a filter on a furnace, even if the techs had proper training in the more complicated preventive maintenance things that must be done each year.

Further, when the only staff on a complex are inadequately trained, they may not know when it is they need professional help from a licensed HVAC company. There are disincentives in the industry to get better help. The more thorough the maintenance, the more that may be mandated to spend on replacing furnaces and other appliances. The less the general manager of the property knows about the condition of the furnaces, the higher the profit margin – until someone get carbon monoxide poisoned.

One would think that a lawsuit is an expensive lesson, but even after people get poisoned, conditions in apartment complexes may not change.

Inadequate Training of Maintenance Techs Cause Apartment Carbon Monoxide Poisonings

Large apartment complexes to the calculus that it is cheaper to have in-house maintenance people than to contract it out to HVAC companies. From a strictly budgetary perspective that might be justifiable if the service was being done by someone with the same training and experience. It never is. While many maintenance techs have licenses, those are almost only for handling refrigerants in air conditioners, not HVAC work on furnaces. Furnace manufacturers and trade groups require that expert maintenance be done on all furnaces.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has joint standards with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) for maintaining HVAC equipment (ANSI/ACCA Standard 4 QM 2013/2019).  The checklist includes inspection of the heat exchanger (5.4.q) as well as the performance of a combustion test (

Failure to check for cracked heat exchangers is one of the leading causes of Apartment Carbon Monoxide Poisonings. The older a furnace, the more likely there will be life-threatening cracked heat exchangers.

Furnaces are not Checked for Cracked Heat Exchangers

To inspect the heat exchangers in many furnaces, it is required to take the furnace apart to do so. That takes time that under-staffed maintenance departments don’t have time to do. An alternative is to watch the flame quality at start-up of the furnace, but if the tech doesn’t know what to look for, that will tell nothing.

We have deposed maintenance techs who have never checked for a cracked heat exchanger in decades of working at apartment complexes. Thus it is not a surprise to hear techs refer to carbon monoxide as carbon dioxide, or CO2.



Combustion Tests are Not Done at Apartment Complexes

Ask the question of maintenance techs at large apartment complexes how to do a combustion test, you will get a highly variable answers. What you are unlikely to get is the correct answer.

For the type of inspection that should be done, see this video:

Two reasons you can bet that a combustion test wasn’t done: First, the techs don’t know how to do them. Second, they do not have a combustion gas analyzer on the property. Don’t be surprised if the only device on the apartment complex grounds to measure carbon monoxide, is the carbon monoxide detectors on the wall in the apartments. Watch the maintenance tech service a furnace in your apartment. If they don’t insert a meter device probe into the exhaust gases of the furnace, as shown in above video, they are doing it wrong.

Only a combustion gas analyzer can be relied upon to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning at apartments. This combustion gas analyzer shows CO in the exhaust of this boiler at 9,036 ppm, extremely deadly in there was a breech in the exhaust flue of this unit.

Ask your tech if they have a device to measure carbon monoxide in the exhaust gases, they are likely to show you a device that only detects natural gas or propane, not carbon monoxide. An instrument like this one will not detect carbon monoxide:  A device like the one to the left will.

How Old is Your Furnace?

The landlord or management company doesn’t like you going inside the maintenance closet, but if you are concerned about whether your furnace is safe, check how old it is. Most furnaces face plates have the year of manufacture printed on them. If that date is before 1995, your furnace is beyond its useful life. 25 years is the normal life expectancy of a furnace. If it is before 1990, it is well past its life expectancy, yet until there has been a carbon monoxide poisoning, it will probably not get replaced. In our experience, half of the furnaces older than 1990 may have cracked heat exchangers.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms in Apartments

A quick parting word about carbon monoxide alarms in apartments. They are now almost universally required. Yet, in too many cases, no one is auditing to make sure they are there. In many places, the requirement to have them is more recent than the construction date of the complex and unless there is an incident, no one may pay any attention as to whether the detector is a carbon monoxide alone alarm, a combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarm or just a smoke detector. The last two look a lot alike. Take a picture with your cell phone and read the words carefully. If it doesn’t say carbon monoxide on your detector, call your landlord at once.

Yonkers Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Hospitalizes Eleven

Eleven people were hospitalized on Friday, April 19, 2019 in the Yonkers carbon monoxide poisoning at an apartment building near Coyle Place and McLean Avenue that involved two families including children. Only a dad coming home from work when he did averted a worse tragedy.

The 11 taken to the hospital likely narrowly survived as the ambient air levels of carbon monoxide were 600 to 700 ppm. Levels that high can raise the level of carbon monoxide in the blood, carboxyhemoglobin to 50% in a matter of minutes. Levels above 50% often are fatal.

According to news reports, all of the individuals involved were transported to Westchester and Bronx hospitals. Hopefully, those involved were given hyperbaric oxygen treatment, as this is known to reduce the incidence of long term brain damage from high exposures of carbon monoxide by about 20%.


Sadly, our experience has shown us that about half of the eleven people in this incident are likely to have long term problems, despite a reasonably quick elimination of the carbon monoxide from their blood. The emergency rooms may have discharged these individuals as soon as their COHb (carboxyhemoglobin) blood levels returned to near normal with no advice as to future problems or the need for future treatment.

High levels of carbon monoxide can cause heart attacks, pulmonary problems and effect every organ in the human body. The organ most vulnerable to long term problems is the brain. If any survivor of the Yonkers carbon monoxide poisoning has ongoing problems, it is imperative that they return for medical treatment as soon as these symptoms occur. What to watch out for? Headaches of course, but also a relapse of the same symptoms they were feeling at the time of the poisoning: nausea, light headedness, fogginess. See

Long term problems related to brain damage from Yonkers carbon monoxide poisoning fall in to four major categories: changes in cognition, changes in mood, changes in behavior and neurological deficits. See

Changes in Cognition After Yonkers Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The most obvious sign of brain damage after carbon monoxide poisoning are the changes in cognition, the way a person thinks, remembers, processes information. A person doesn’t suddenly become stupid, but thinking, remembering and concentrating become more difficult. These changes are most noticeable when the person is tired or in pain, such as from the headaches which occur in most cases.

Also. sometimes considered a cognitive change, is change in frontal or executive functioning. Changes in executive function involve difficulty making decisions, difficulties in initiating activity and poor judgment.

Changes in Mood After Yonkers Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Changes in mood is another example of what brain damage can do to a person. As differentiated from behavior, a change in mood is how a person feels about themselves. Depression, anxiety and an overall dulling of emotions are some of the mood changes that may occur with brain damage from carbon monoxide exposure. Rapid mood swings are also something to watch out for.

Changes in Behavior After Yonkers Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Changes in behavior is differentiated as this involves how a person interacts with others. Impulsivity, anger, changes in manners and ability to stay within social norms happen.

Neurological Deficits After Yonkers Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The most distinctive pattern of brain damage after carbon monoxide poisoning includes significant changes in the way in which the nervous system interacts with the brain. The cranial nerves and the areas deep inside the brain where perception and processing of input from the central nervous system are quite specifically damaged by carbon monoxide poisoning. This can impact vision, hearing, balance and sleep.

Carbon monoxide poisoning does not happen without the fault of others. Those who survived should get to the bottom of what happened and hold those who neglected the heating system in this house responsible.

Tragedy Strikes in Battle Creek Carbon Monoxide Deaths

Sometimes it feels like we overuse the word tragedy. But when two young parents die in the Battle Creek Carbon Monoxide event on January 23, 2019, the word tragedy might not be strong enough. If talking of two deaths isn’t enough, the word parent should grab your attention. The 20-year old dad and 19-year old mom were found dead next to:

“The couple’s five-month-old son, who was found lying next to them on the air mattress, was alive and treated at a local hospital.”

If there is a tragedy, there is likely a villain. The victims were 20-year-old Brandon Bull of Bronson, Michigan and 19-year-old Cylie Jo Canniff of Coldwater, Michigan AND the couples infant. The child is not only an orphan, he in all likelihood will grow up with permanent brain damage from this poisoning. For more on carbon monoxide and brain damage, click here. 

The Villain – The Portable Electric Generator

As much sadness as the story of the victims should engender, the story of the villain demands anger and justice. This young couple died because the manufacturers of portable electric generators have denied, delayed and pretended for a generation that their death machines are safe because no one would ever use them indoors. Yet these same manufacturers run advertisements where these generators are part of the dream garage.

Carbon monoxide deaths and disability are always avoided, especially those from portable electric generators like the Battle Creek carbon monoxide deaths. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has been trying to make generators safer for a generation. Cars have eliminated 99% of the carbon monoxide emissions. Generators zero. This graphic understates how relatively dangerous these generators are because it is talking about 1990’s cars, not 2019 cars. 

For almost 20 years the United States Consumers Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been trying to force generator manufacturers to make these generators safer. The manufacturers know how dangerous these generators are but keep coming up with stalling tactics and marginal fixes that will prevent only the most severe poisonings. But those fixes to prevent the most severe poisonings didn’t save these young people. The reason they didn’t save these victims? Because the manufacturers are just now starting to put in the rudimentary safety device that might have saved this couple.

In March of 2017 I personally testified in front of the CPSC about how dangerous these generators were. At the time, it appeared that CPSC was going to be able to force these manufacturers to make their generators as safe as a car parked in a garage. But lobbyists and a change in Administration stopped that progress. For other blogs I have written about this killer, click here. 

I warned the generator manufacturers at this 2017 hearing in Washington, D.C.  that their delay and misdirection actions would cost lives and leave people brain damaged. Tragedy struck again in the Battle Creek carbon monoxide tragedy. Sitting next to me is Joe Moses with Generac Power Systems.

The manufacturers came up with an alternative that wouldn’t prevent most poisonings but was supposed to prevent all deaths. The theory was that if they put an automatic shut off on their generators when the ambient air concentrations of carbon monoxide got to 400 ppm, no one would die. But this generator didn’t shut off and these two people died and this little boy will grow up without his natural parents.

Why? Because the manufacturers only talked about making portable electric generators safe for an entire generation. This 19 year old mom was two years old when the CPSC started the regulation process to stop these killer machines.

How dangerous are these generators? These little lawn mower sized engines produce more carbon monoxide than a thousand new cars. Yes a parking ramp size garage with all cars idling wouldn’t be any more dangerous than this little engine that could kill.

Who would represent someone so foolish as to run a generator indoors? I would. I would especially represent this innocent child who will struggle without parents and likely brain damage. The government hasn’t stopped this killer. Only trial lawyers like me can.

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.



Red Steaks Point to Fault in Wayne Michigan Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is not what is supposed to happen when a fuel such as natural gas is burned. Yet it did happen in the Wayne Michigan carbon monoxide poisoning at the Hickory Hollow Cooperative. Click here for yesterday’s blog. What should happen in a fuel burning appliance is that the fuel combines with oxygen and produces CO2 and H2O. As both gases are hot after combustion, they should harmlessly flow up and out of a chimney.

But when the H20 (water) starts condensing (returning to a liquid form) before the gases leave the chimney, this is evidence that there is something wrong with either the flame inside the appliance or the method of venting. Either there is too much fuel for the amount of oxygen or the gases are being cooled by some process that shouldn’t be occurring. Negligent maintenance of appliances and chimneys can cause either process to occur. In the Wayne Michigan carbon monoxide poisoning, it appears that bad maintenance allowed both things to happen.

Modern HVAC systems utilize galvanized steel exhaust pipes. At Hickory Hollow, the chimneys were brick with clay liners. But masonry chimneys are not necessarily unsafe if they have well maintained grout and are sealed to the elements. But if a chimney looks like this, it is likely that the seal between the hot gases of the chimney and the cool outside air is not maintained.

Condensation marks like these found after the Wayne Michigan carbon monoxide poisoning are clear indications of bad maintenance and management.

When outside air leaks into a chimney, it cools the gases. When this happens, H2O will begin to condense inside the chimney before it gets to the outside. If it is cold enough, ice could begin to form inside the chimney. If the boiler is burning hot enough, one would think it would continue to melt the ice. But even on the coldest days, boilers and furnaces don’t run continuously.  Thus the ice can formed when the boiler isn’t running. If the ice formation is bad enough, it may escalate to the point that the exhaust gases can’t escape.

Old chimney’s systems like the one shown here require the normal updraft of a fully open chimney flue to keep gases flowing. It is important to keep gases flowing not just to make sure they leave the building, but also to provide the pull of oxygen to the flame. When the hot air cools and thus slows down, carbon monoxide will be formed. When the amount of carbon monoxide gets to a significant level, the risk of it leaving the chimney escalates. Carbon monoxide may actually start flowing down the chimney and out into the house.

The question has to be asked? Should Hickory Hollow management and maintenance personnel have had warning that this could happen? Of course they should have. This is an open and obvious hazard.

When condensation marks show up on the outside of a chimney, that is a red flag. When significant rust shows up at the bottom of a chimney at the clean out, that is a serious indicator. The outside condensation can be seen in a drive-by inspection. Anyone properly trained should been warned. It would be obvious while a maintenance person was mowing the grass. While not as obvious from the street, the inside condensation marks are the type of signs that should have mandated a full inspection. But was anyone even looking?

Not only does it appear that Hickory Hollow didn’t see the outside signs, but they didn’t inspect the boilers often enough to see the inside signs. The lingering question in this case is why didn’t Hickory Hollow figure out how dangerous their chimney’s were between the first time someone went to the hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning and when someone subsequently died?

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.


Two Days of Wayne Carbon Monoxide Incidents Leave One Dead

Two Wayne carbon monoxide poisonings on consecutive days left one dead and others hospitalized. Why did it have to happen twice?

One dead, others injured in the Hickory Hollow Apartments – Wayne Carbon Monoxide incidents, on consecutive days in Wayne Michigan. How could this happen?

Our law firm does nothing but carbon monoxide poisoning cases. We have handled carbon monoxide cases around the country and just had an eight-figure settlement in a near death tragedy in Detroit which happened in 2017. We have seen neglect of tenants’ rights. We have seen bad management. But how does it happen that on two consecutive days, tenants are poisoned by carbon monoxide poisoning, by the same wrongdoing?

Click here for more about our experience in carbon monoxide cases. 

Only one time in my career have I seen something comparable. That was a hotel poisoning in Boone North Carolina where in two separate incidents in the same hotel room, three different people died. But those incidents were a couple of months apart and no one understood at the time that the first couple died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

But according to Chanel Four in Detroit, the day before one woman died, a similar incident happened at the Hickory Hollows apartments in Wayne, Michigan.

An earlier story had explained that the same mechanism had caused the carbon monoxide in both situations.

According to reports, it wasn’t until the second incident that those in charge of the Hickory Hollows sought to investigate whether other residents were also being poisoned. Condensation inside of a furnace flue is not an Act of God. This happens because of bad maintenance and neglect. Certainly, severe cold can make it worse, but a properly functioning furnace will not create these problems. Proof? The rest of us made it through -25 degrees last week and we weren’t poisoned.

That is the rest of us, except those other residents of Hickory Hollows. This Wayne carbon monoxide incident must be a wakeup call. The Wayne carbon monoxide incident must be a wakeup to make sure every apartment has a working carbon monoxide alarm but a wakeup that everyone knows what to do if the alarm goes off.

More important, when one tenant is overcome by carbon monoxide, it is time to check all other units to be sure the same thing that caused the first incident isn’t happening anywhere else.

Elsewhere on we have pages of content that explains that how carbon monoxide is formed and how it can kill and permanently damage the brains of those who survive. Know this. Carbon monoxide poisonings don’t happen without the wrongful conduct of someone. If it happens in an apartment complex, it presumptively happens because of poor management and maintenance. Failing to maintain a furnace is negligent. Failing to ascertain that the cause of one person being poisoned is likely to happen to others is gross neglect.

Stories like this are why you hire an attorney. Not just to receive compensation for the harm that this neglect caused, but to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Attorney Gordon Johnson




Detroit Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Sends Family to Hospital

The ambiguous nature of carbon monoxide poisoning resulted in not just one, but 8 hospitalized on the west side of Detroit today. One child was sick when the grandmother called the 911. After treating the child, then other family members got sick in this Detroit carbon monoxide poisoning. Then the EMT’s, who unfortunately didn’t recognize immediately the source of the illness, also got sick.

Fox 2 News Details Detroit carbon monoxide poisoning on Auburn Street.

This pattern happens in almost every case of carbon monoxide poisoning cases that the Brain Injury Group handles. Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms can be confused with many other illnesses. Click here for the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. First one person gets sick with flu-like symptoms of nausea, vomiting and headache. Then, another person gets sick and then another. Carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t discriminate. And if the EMT’s get sick in the short time they are at a scene, the levels almost have to be deadly.

Fortunately this Detroit carbon monoxide poisoning incident happened in the daytime and the survivors didn’t just try to sleep off the symptoms. As we say on our home page, if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, get out of the home, then call 911. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible. Unlike smoke or soot, it cannot be seen or smelled. Thus, without a proper carbon monoxide alarm, only the human bodies illness response will warn those in peril.

Low CO carbon monoxide detectors will warn of carbon monoxide poisoning before it is too late.

Only carbon monoxide detectors can prevent incidents like this Detroit carbon monoxide poisoning where even EMT’s were hospitalized.

The survivors of this Detroit carbon monoxide poisoning were taken to the same hospital, Sinai Grace, that other of our carbon monoxide clients have been taken. We hope that the ER personnel do the right thing and send the whole family to hyperbaric oxygen treatment, available at Detroit Receiving Hospital. Only hyperbaric oxygen treatment can reduce the probability of long term injury, including brain damage.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Needed Regardless of COHb Levels

Too often, the decision to as to whether to send survivors for carbon monoxide poisoning is determined based on the initial carbon monoxide level in the blood. Carbon monoxide in the blood is called carboxyhemoglobin, abbreviated COHb. While the decision to send someone to hyperbaric treatment often is made only is a COHb level is above 25%, that determination is wrong. Almost half of those with COHb levels above 10% will suffer permanent brain damage. While hyperbaric treatment doesn’t eliminate the risk of permanent brain damage, it is the only thing that can be done to prevent brain damage in the acute phase after the poisoning.

The reason the Brain Injury Law Group is focusing on carbon monoxide poisoning is that permanent brain damage is the most significant long term risk factor for those who survive carbon monoxide poisoning. For more on brain damage from carbon monoxide exposure, click here. The Brain Injury Law Group has represented more than 100 survivors of carbon monoxide poisoning, including other Detroit survivors. Our representation of the survivors of carbon monoxide poisoning has included two settlements above $10 million in the last two years. Our current cases include cases in Detroit, Chicago, Orlando, Denver and Wisconsin.

Carbon Monoxide Attorney Necessary

It is important to retain an experienced carbon monoxide law firm almost immediately in a case such as this.  In order to recover in a carbon monoxide poisoning, it is necessary to prove precisely what wrongdoer has done wrong. That requires the preservation of evidence. Not just from a landlord, but also from management companies and HVAC companies. Lawsuits should be considered against ownership of the properties where this occurred. Management companies may have been responsible for maintaining the property. Furnaces and hot water heaters are often maintained by outside companies. All of these parties must be promptly investigated by lawyers who fully understand the laws, the science and the engineering of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Five people were hospitalized in a San Antonio carbon monoxide poisoning on Sunday, March 11, 2018. The carbon monoxide poisoning occurred at an apartment complex. Apparently stemmed from a hot water heater from a broken or blocked exhaust vent. The carbon monoxide poisoning occurred at Marbach Manor apartments on the 7200 block of Marbach Road in San Antonio, Texas. A total of 30 people were reportedly evacuated. See

Warm Weather no Bar to San Antonio Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning is typically thought to be something that occurs in cold weather. But even during warm weather, CO poisoning can occur. This is especially true in apartments or hotels which use commercial sized hot water heaters. Without the proper flow of oxygen to any fuel burning appliance, carbon monoxide will form in dangerous concentrations. Further, when the proper venting of fumes  is interrupted, the flow of oxygen to the flame can create toxic conditions. Most commercial sized hot water heaters require the outflow of exhaust to keep the oxygen flowing to the flame. Carbon monoxide occurs any time there is too much natural gas to the amount of oxygen present.

As we express our best wishes for those who were hospitalized, we want to emphasize that hyperbaric oxygen therapy should be required for all those poisoned. Too often, if the carbon monoxide percentage in the blood of those poisoned is below 25%, hyperbaric oxygen will not be called for. This is a mistake. Anyone who has more than a 10% carbon monoxide level in their blood, should receive hyperbaric oxygen treatment.

All in San Antonio Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Should Get Evaluated

Our second concern for the well being of those involved in this San Antonio carbon monoxide poisoning is that all evacuated should go to the hospital and have their carbon monoxide levels taken. Not every one who needs treatment gets it. This is especially true in mass carbon monoxide poisonings. On the scene triage often miss people with significant poisonings. Sometimes there are not enough ambulances to transfer everyone needing attention. Many times, the long term consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning may be more severe than expected. While a 10% carboxyhemoglobin level may only cause a slight headache it is sufficient to cause long term problems.  Up to 40% of survivors with 10% levels can have  long term consequences.

Get to the hospital, insist on hyperbaric oxygen. We say these same things after most poisonings becausse that should be the standard of care for all carbon monoxide poisonings.

Attorney Gordon Johnson

Yesterday my news feed flashed with the story of 10 hospitalized because of a Winter Storm Quinn carbon monoxide hazard. For yesterday’s blog about the Quinn carbon monoxide poisoning in North White Plains, New York, click here. At the center of that story was an electric generator. If you have been reading this blog, it is the same story, different storm. Last fall it was Hurricane Irma that hit Puerto Rico and Florida, leaving behind victims of these same type of portable generators. The victims are not just people killed, but the thousands of those who get poisoned. Our attention was drawn recently to a series of generator related carbon monoxide poisonings that happened not with the expected portable electric generators, but installed standby units that were installed too close to occupied living zones.

Seasonal Gift May Have Prevented a Quinn Carbon Monoxide Tragedy

The positive in yesterday’s developments was a gift my firm gave to a colleague in a community near where Winter Storm Quinn Carbon Monoxide event occurred this week. Every year we get many gift baskets of fruit and other holiday items from colleagues around the country. A couple of years ago I stopped trying to find something similar to give in exchange. Instead, I started giving colleagues portable carbon monoxide alarms that were far more sensitive than the standard UL approved alarms that many people put on their ceilings of plug into walls. This year I gave the portable alarm from Forensics, which you can buy here.

Forensics sensitive detector could avoid Winter Storm Quinn carbon monoxide poisoning events.

Winter Storm Quinn carbon monoxide poisonings can be eliminated by assuring that you have a sensitive carbon monoxide alarm, such as the one shown here.

I called a colleague to ask him about the Winter Storm Quinn Carbon Monoxide tragedy in his back yard.  He told me that the alarm I had given him had gone off the day before at his paralegal’s residence. Both he and his paralegal had portable electric generators. Those generators were bought when Hurricane Sandy left them without power in 2012. Winter Storm Quinn had a similar impact on this part of New York and out came the portable electric generators. My colleague understood about not having a generator inside. What he and his staff didn’t realize is that generators outside must be at least 20 feet from buildings.

Standby Generators can be a Carbon Monoxide Hazard

After Hurricane Irma in Florida carbon monoxide poisonings occurred because standby electric generators were installed inside this 20 foot perimeter. As I said yesterday, the fault in these Quinn carbon monoxide poisonings lies with the manufacturers of these generators. In the Florida case, the fault also lies with any contractor who installed an engine closer than 20 feet from the inside of a home.

We understand how critical a return of power is after a power outage. My father spent his career designing standby generators, my brother his career servicing these machines. Yet, getting power back on is not worth a life. The industry knows what happens in an emergency. They know that not all consumers understand not to a generator inside. Further, the industry needs to do more to warn consumers as to what is a safe distance outside.

I also believe that stores and other businesses that rent these generators, should also make sure that their customers have a long enough extension cords that they will be able to leave the generator 20 feet from the house.

Attorney Gordon Johnson