ATLANTA, GA — Carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless, odorless, tasteless, nonirratating gas, causes thousands of deaths per year. A seminar at ASHRAE’s Winter Meeting here took a look at consumer apathy, CO monitor inaccuracy, and contractor negligence in the 100-plus deaths attributable to fossil fuel-burning heating systems per year.

CO poisoning injuries can include apathy, disorientation, amnesia, and a range of neurological symptoms that can relapse, and that doctors frequently underestimate “because it mimics so many other things,” said Thomas E. Greiner, Ph. D., Iowa State University.

Moreover, consumers who assume that their CO alarms are too sensitive tend to ignore them when they go off frequently, especially if a heating contractor gives their system a clean bill of health after making repairs. “Some of our heating contractors are extremely dangerous,” Greiner said.

In addition, most CO monitors are inaccurate, some grossly so, according to Paul Clifford, Ph. D., with Mosaic Industries. It may be more appropriate to take a look at system operation and maintenance, than to mandate use of CO monitors in residential applications.