Salt Lake City, UT – Carbon monoxide is a stealthy killer whose victims often don’t realize they are being poisoned before it’s too late.
In 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 23 people were killed and hospital emergency rooms reported treating 314 cases of CO poisoning. This year, dozens of people already have been sickened by the colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, produced by burning such carbon-based fuels as gasoline, propane, charcoal or oil. And at least nine people have died, from a couple found in an idling car in a Salt Lake City garage in January, to the most recent case of a teen found unconscious in the shower of his family’s cabin.
That frustrates public health experts, who say awareness and prevention are critical.
“There’s a lot of things you have to do. It’s not just one thing,” said Marty C. Malheiro, coordinator of outreach education at the Utah Poison Control Center.
Any appliance that burns fuel, such as space and water heaters, generators and cooking ranges must be regularly inspected and properly maintained and vented. Homes, cabins and boats should be equipped with Underwriters Laboratory-certified CO detectors that are battery-operated and sound an alarm when CO levels become dangerous. But the detectors also need to be maintained and replaced every few years, Malheiro noted.
“Don’t get complacent,” she said.
While most cases of CO poisoning occur in the winter due to faulty or improperly vented heating devices, summer activities also pose risks. Boat exhaust leaks are a common cause of death because the exhaust can migrate throughout the boat and into enclosed areas. And campers often use portable heaters in tents.
The center offers these tips on preventing exposure to CO:
» Never use generators, fuel-burning equipment or charcoal grills indoors or in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces, such as a tent or garage.
» Never allow anyone to swim or play around the area where engines vent their exhaust, such as the back of a houseboat.
» Make sure that all fuel-burning appliances are properly vented.
» Install a battery-operated CO detector in your home, cabin or houseboat. Detectors range in price from about $15 to $60, depending on features.
» Know the symptoms of CO poisoning — headache, nausea and dizziness. If you think someone has symptoms of CO poisoning, immediately turn off equipment and go to a place with fresh air. For life-threatening problems, such as difficulty breathing or fainting, call 911.
» For advice or questions, call the poison center toll-free 24 hour hotline at 1-800-222-1222.