While some segments of the industry are debating whether or not carbon monoxide (CO) alarms should be mandated in residential structures, this winter there is little doubt that unintentional CO poisoning from appliances needs to be addressed in some form.

Heating contractors need to stress the importance of regular maintenance to their customers. And, if a visiting service tech finds signs that CO may be entering the living space, those customers need to know the seriousness of the problem and how important it is to get it fixed properly.

A malfunctioning motel water heater in Illinois and a New York apartment building’s faulty boiler and poorly vented clothes dryer were apparent sources of CO poisoning that sent more than 50 people to hospitals in late January.

While some of the New York victims needed treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, most of the others were examined, treated, and released fairly quickly, newspaper reports indicate.

Other victims of the colorless, odorless gas didn’t live through it. Three New Jersey workers were killed in early February by fumes from a generator being used for both heat and power in a home undergoing renovation. Three elderly sisters died in Weishample, PA, also in early February, from an apparent combination of CO and hypothermia.

The six deaths and “close call” incidents underscore the danger of carbon monoxide described in a seminar at ASHRAE’s Winter Meeting last month (The News, Feb. 12, page 1).

CO From Appliances

The East Peoria, IL, motel mishap occurred Jan. 19, when a 12-year-old boy became ill. The highest concentration of CO was detected in a motel’s indoor swimming pool area. Assistant Fire Chief Mike Vaughn said he thought the gas came from a malfunctioning water heater in the pool area, according to thePeoria Journal Star.

The newspaper said 30 people were treated at two area hospitals for exposure to carbon monoxide and were subsequently released. Other guests were evacuated but many chose to return to their rooms after the area was deemed safe.

A few days later, carbon monoxide flooded an Upper West Side apartment building in New York City, The New York Times reported, “sending 21 people, some ... dangerously ill, to hospitals.” A faulty boiler and problems with the exhaust of a clothes dryer in the basement were cited as probable causes by Fire Battalion Chief Brian Dixon.

In all, 60 people on the block were evacuated. Five of the injured were sent to Jacobi Medical Center, which has a hyperbaric chamber that can treat multiple occupants, the Times said. A physician there was quoted as saying one victim who passed out in his apartment had so much carbon monoxide in his blood, “he should have been a corpse.”

The soot-clogged chimney of a coal stove used to heat a Pennsylvania farmhouse seems at least partially responsible for the deaths in early January of three sisters in their 70s and 80s. Carbon monoxide built up in the kitchen where the three women were found, each wrapped in multiple layers of clothing. Hypo-thermia may have also been a factor; the inside temperature was 22°F when officials arrived, according to the Associated Press.

And in Jersey City, NJ, one construction worker survived the apparent CO poisoning that killed three of his coworkers in early February at a house undergoing renovation, Reuters news agency reported.

Police believed an electrical generator in the basement, being used as a heat source, sent fumes throughout the house through ventilators, said Jersey City Police Lt. Michael Louf. The survivor (evidently the one who called police when his three coworkers didn’t wake up) was treated at a local hospital. Installing the generator violated multiple city codes, Louf added.

Detector Development

Rising awareness of carbon monoxide’s danger is spurring promotion and development of CO detectors ranging from commercial-building size to individual personal units.

BW Technologies Ltd., a Canadian maker of advanced gas detection instruments, has launched a CO detector specifically made for commercial buildings with underground parking garages. The company calls the “Toxypoint” unit the “world’s-first three-year, maintenance-free carbon monoxide detector” for such use. It was shown at the AHR Expo in Atlanta, GA.

Quantum Group Inc. is promoting its COStar P-1 personal carbon monoxide alarm for use by individual workers, occupants of motor vehicles, and others who want to monitor their own CO exposure. The battery-operated, self-testing unit is available at www.qginc.com or by calling Quantum Group at 800-432-5599.

The risk of CO poisoning seems widespread. Even open-air vacation sites seem to carry some risk. In early February, three Republican congressmen called for review of a houseboat hull design linked to CO poisonings at Lake Powell, a popular recreation site in northern Arizona and southern Utah.

At least nine people have died and 102 have been sickened by carbon monoxide at Lake Powell in the past 10 years, according to researchers quoted by the Denver paper. Seven of the deaths involved houseboats built with the rear exhaust design.

Publication date:03/05/2001