CHICAGO - During the recent 2006 ISH North America Trade Show, one of the seminars dealt with the emotional topic of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and how it affects the HVAC contracting trade and the people it serves. A panel of experts on the subject, moderated byNEWS'Business Editor John R. Hall included George Kerr, president and founder of G.E. Kerr Companies Inc., Mark Hunt, founder of Comfortable Home Technologies, and Jim Davis, CO/combustion trainer and consultant for the National Comfort Institute.

The discussion looked at several aspects of the CO issue, including monitor/alarm technology, real-life examples from a heating contractor, and CO training and education.


Kerr, whose company sells low-level CO monitors and maintains a CO educational Website said that one of his greatest frustrations is "working with experts who can't make everything perfect."

He believes there is a great deal of misinformation about CO monitors, some of which comes from studies done by manufacturers and associations. "Find out who paid for a scientific study or report," Kerr said. "Often a manufacturer or group will bias a study because they paid for it."

Kerr also suggested to attendees that they take a look at the disclaimers on CO monitor packages because as he described, "manufacturers put disclaimers on products to protect themselves in a liability suit."

He pointed out that monitor testing standards allow for alarms to sound once there are 70 parts per million (ppm) of CO in the air from between 60-240 minutes. Anything below 70 ppm is still harmful and that is what he is concerned about. "You and your family can ingest 69 ppm forever and the alarms will never go off," Kerr said.

He also noted that testing standards, established in 1968, are based on healthy 18-21-year-old male military recruits, and do not include children, the elderly, and pregnant women.

A panel assembled to discuss the topic of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning at the ISH North America Trade Show included (from left) Mark Hunt, George Kerr, and Jim Davis.


Hunt, an HVAC contractor from New York, passed out photos of equipment that he found while making service calls. He noted the poor condition of the equipment was due to lack of service and maintenance, and did not place the blame on equipment manufacturers.

"I've never seen a report that shows that a CO incident was caused by a particular manufacturer," he said.

Hunt mentioned that he is now getting calls from lawyers, asking for information about CO poisoning and its sources. "The lawyers are coming," he said. "I am working with a contractor facing a $200,000 lawsuit. How many of you can afford a $200,000 hit?"

He also challenged contractors at the panel discussion to call up 10 of the largest HVAC contractors in their area and ask them if they use digital combustion analyzing equipment. "I bet most will say no," he said.

Hunt shook his head when he talked about a recent conversation with a contractor from the Northeast. "He said that ‘We use oil up here so we aren't worried about CO'," Hunt said. "Everything that burns creates CO. Heck, I can even make a toaster produce CO."

He also told the story of a woman who was found in her cold home frozen to death, along with some of her pets. He doubted that they died from freezing but no one will ever know for sure. "Once a person is in the ground the story is over," Hunt said. "We may never know what kills some of these people."


"I travel the country and can't believe the ignorance I see," Davis told his audience. "I don't want to scare people when I talk about CO, but sometimes they are so stupid I have to scare them."

He joked about a person who asked him how many times people die from CO poisoning. "Once - they only die once," Davis said.

He added that installing a CO monitor will not prevent death and injuries - repairing the equipment will. "Putting up a sign or an alarm will not solve the problem," he said.

The problem with CO education is that there isn't enough of it, according to Davis. He said that votech schools seldom include as much as 10 minutes of combustion training. That's too bad because votech students can be the most vulnerable.

"Every week I have students that go home and find out that their own houses are dangerous to live in," he said.

Davis poked fun at attendees at the trade show, too. "Eighty percent of the hotels in our country are poisoning their guests," he said. "Enjoy your stay in Chicago."

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Publication date: 11/13/2006