Mobile, AL – By MONIQUE CURET, Staff Reporter

A Mobile hospital has treated 13 people for carbon monoxide poisoning — including two families — in a little over a week, a reminder of the need for safety when cold weather sets in.

Staff at Springhill Medical Center treated a family of six on Dec. 21 and a family of five plus two other adults on Dec. 24, all for carbon monoxide poisoning, said spokeswoman Marian Faulk.

She said the two families — one with four children and two adults, the other with three children and two adults — were treated using hyperbaric medicine, which involves a se ries of sessions to administer concentrated oxygen in a pressurized environment.

The families’ poisonings were heater-related, Faulk said.

The other two adults, who were not related to one another, were treated but not using hyperbaric medicine, Faulk said.

She said she did not know the origin of the two adults’ poisoning.

The five other Mobile hospitals have not treated anyone for carbon monoxide poisoning over the past few weeks, officials said. Thomas Hospital in Fairhope also has not had any reports of recent poisonings, a spokeswoman said.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death, according to the National Center for Environmental Health. It is often referred to as the “invisible” killer.

“Carbon monoxide is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems,” the center reports. The gas from those sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces.

“Statistics indicate an average of 210 non-fire heating equipment deaths result each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, primarily involving fuel-burning appliances,” according to information provided by Steve Huffman, spokesman for the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department. “These include furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, ranges and ovens, charcoal grills and clothes dryers.”

Huffman said fuel-burning appliances may have a disconnected vent pipe or a dirty filter, which pushes carbon monoxide back into the house.

He said that people who have fireplaces or fuel-burning appliances need to install carbon monoxide detectors, which sound an alarm if there is an elevated level of gas in the house.

Huffman recommended that people check the filters in appliances at least once a month and change them when needed.

Other tasks, such as checking vent pipes, should be performed by professionals.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association recommends that qualified service technicians perform preventative maintenance annually; that chimneys and flues be kept free of blockages, corrosion and loose connections; that individual appliances be serviced regularly; and that kerosene and gas space heaters (vented or unvented) be cleaned and inspected to ensure proper operation.