Rochester, NY – Snowbanks around houses pose the hidden danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
High-efficiency furnaces vent out the side of homes instead of the roof. Gas clothes dryers and some water heaters do the same. The vents could be blocked by the snowfall itself or shoveling or snowblowing driveways and walkways.
Vents need to be kept clear to avoid having carbon monoxide back up in the home.
On Wednesday, the state Department of Health issued a news release to alert residents to the potential danger. The state reported that first responders in western New York found CO buildup in several homes after heavy snowfall.
In Rochester, firefighters responded Wednesday afternoon to 28 Michigan St. for a report of a CO monitor sounding and a woman complaining of a headache. Three adults and seven children were taken to a hospital for evaluation.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is produced from burning wood, oil, natural gas, propane, kerosene, coal and gasoline.
CO is present in homes, and the normal background level varies depending on the presence of cigarette smoke and the types of heating and cooking fuels. Firefighters at the Michigan Street residence found CO levels as high as 100 parts per million. The maximum recommended indoor level is 9 parts per million.
Lt. Dana Cieslinski said in a statement that a neighbor had been using a snowblower and accidently covered the furnace exhaust pipe, causing a backflow of CO into the house.
According to the state health department, approximately 200 New Yorkers a year are hospitalized because of accidental CO poisoning. About one-third of the individuals are poisoned by CO from a fire and about two-thirds are poisoned by CO that is produced by fuel-burning sources. Many more people are treated for CO exposure in emergency rooms.
Some furnaces stop running if vents are blocked and it may be necessary to place a service call to have the unit restarted.