Sebewaing, MI – Members of a family of eight say they escaped danger in the form of carbon monoxide poisoning earlier this week.
“For this to happen was extraordinary and crazy,” said Tim Beringer, 32, of Sebewaing. “We’re lucky to be alive. So I’d like to be able to help make
people aware of the danger.”
While four of their children were in school, Tim and Holli Beringer were at the family’s home, located at 104 W. Main St. in Sebewaing, with their 4-month-old daughter and 3-year-old son Tuesday morning when their carbon monoxide detector went off twice.
“That raised a red flag in my mind,” said Tim Beringer, an apprentice union carpenter.
Holli Beringer and the two children immediately evacuated the home, while Tim Beringer called Consumers Energy, opened some windows and shut off all homeowner gas valves because he suspected the home’s furnace was the source of the problem.
Prior to the alarms going off, the family had smelled gas, Tim Beringer said. They also were experiencing a variety of unusual symptoms, such as headaches and sleepiness, coughs and stomach aches.
“You wouldn’t know it was anything out of the ordinary,” he said in regard to the ailments – which varied from one family member to the next (and not all were having the same problems).
Tim Beringer said he also felt out of the ordinary. In fact, for the first time ever in his life, he fainted.
It happened Monday morning when he was in Midland for an eight-hour refresher training course he had to take in order to go back to work.
Previously, he had been laid off about two weeks ago from his construction job.
“The old me would say, ‘get in your car, wait this out, get through the safety training and go back to work,’ but something hit me (that day) and
said, ‘I have to take care of myself, this is not normal – this is out of the ordinary, this just doesn’t happen.’ I’m a pretty physically fit person as far as I’m concerned,” Tim Beringer said.
Luckily, he said he still has medical coverage, so he went to Mid Michigan Regional Hospital where he underwent a variety of tests and exams, and also was given some fluids and oxygen.
But the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and ultimately he was told to schedule a follow-up visit.
Tim Beringer said looking back on his experience, and the symptoms his family were displaying, he feels they were early symptoms of carbon monoxide
The reason he feels that way is because his home tested to have very high levels of carbon monoxide when a field worker from Consumers Energy promptly responded to his call Tuesday morning.
Consumers Energy Spokesperson Debra Dodd said the Beringer’s home tested to have carbon monoxide levels of 124 parts per million.
“Our protocol is generally over 10 ppm, we’re telling people there is a problem in the house,” she said.
The Consumers Energy field worker confirmed Tim Beringer’s suspicions that there was a problem with the furnace as he determined there was a cracked heat exchanger.
“He told me that I should talk to a heating and cooling place and the house was deemed unsafe,” Tim Beringer said.
But, after shutting the furnace down and opening more windows to let the house air out, the family was able to get back in the house Tuesday
All in all, Tim Beringer said he was very glad everything happened as it did in the morning.
“It’s one of those things that could have happened in (our) sleep and that’s why it’s very important to have a carbon monoxide detector by every smoke detector in every room,” he said. “I believe my two little kids and my wife could have been dead … and if it would have carried on a couple hours and the rest of my family got home … it could have been an ultimate travesty.”
Tim Beringer said after this experience, he’s getting a new carbon monoxide detector as he feels the family’s detector should have gone off sooner than it had.
“It didn’t warn us quickly enough,” he said.
But Dodd said in general, all carbon monoxide detectors are time bound so as to prevent false alarms.
“Say there’s 70 ppm being emitted in a home, the alarm must alarm within 60 to 240 minutes of the problem starting. At 150 ppm, the alarm has to go off within 10 to 15 minutes. At 400 ppm, it has to alarm within four to 15 minutes,” she said. “This is pretty standard on all alarms.”
Dodd said the Beringers did the right thing by immediately evacuating the home and calling Consumers Energy.
“We don’t recommend (people) turn off the gas themselves, (but) they can open some windows (although) they should evacuate immediately,” she said. “(They did) the smart thing by getting everyone out and calling Consumers or a qualified contractor.”
As for the gas the Beringers had smelled prior to the carbon monoxide detectors alarming, Dodd said it more than likely was an odor produced by the furnace malfunctioning because carbon monoxide doesn’t have a smell.
“That’s why they call it ‘the silent killer’ because, typically, it’s odorless, colorless and tasteless,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning each year. Carbon monoxide poisoning also accounts for more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 cases are hospitalized annually.
Although there are no official guidelines in place for what are safe levels of carbon monoxide poisoning, some recommendations/standards have been created by a variety of agencies, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For example, the U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards for outdoor air are 9 parts per million (ppm) for 8 hours, and 35 ppm for 1 hour.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends airborne levels of carbon monoxide not exceed a 35 ppm (parts per million) average over a 10-hour period with a limit of 200 ppm not to be exceeded at any time in order to prevent health effects.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) reports the health effects of carbon monoxide depend on the carbon monoxide concentration and length of exposure.
Health effects of concentrations from 1 to 70 ppm are uncertain, but most people will not experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the CPSC. As carbon monoxide levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms may become more noticeable (headache, fatigue, nausea). As carbon monoxide levels increase above 150 ppm to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness and death are possible.
While all people and animals are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, certain groups – including unborn babies, infants and people with chronic heart disease, anemia or respiratory problems – are more susceptible to its effects, according to the EPA. Fatality is highest among Americans 65 and older.
The CPSC recommends every home have a carbon monoxide alarm, and consumers have a professional inspection of all fuel-burning appliances – including furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers, water heaters and space heaters – to detect deadly carbon monoxide leaks.
Dodd recommended residents have a detector that plugs into a wall that has a batter backup in case electricity is lost for an extended period of time.
She said alarms with displays showing carbon monoxide levels also are beneficial in that if levels are rising, it’s immediately noticeable (i.e. people can check the levels instead of just relying on the alarm to sound after a certain amount of time).
Consumers Energy sells such a detector that comes with a seven-year warranty and a carbon monoxide protection plan where if the device alarms, Consumers Energy automatically comes out to the residence and diagnoses the problem free of charge, Dodd said. Typically, this service costs around $90.
That detector is $112.84 and can be paid for all at once, or in three interest-free payments on a customer’s Consumers Energy bill.