Carbon monoxide is an insidious killer, one with few telltale signs. But experts say it’s a killer that can be monitored and defeated easily with a few precautions.
“It is odorless, it is tasteless,” said Frank Conway, chief of the Ohio fire marshal’s Fire Prevention Bureau. “It’s referred to as a ‘silent killer.’”
Three children died and a fourth was hospitalized by a surge of carbon monoxide in a Troy home earlier this month. A broken chimney flue has been blamed for the carbon monoxide poisoning.
Reports of carbon monoxide poisoning abound, especially in the winter. Last week, an adult and three children were transported from a North Dixie Drive daycare near Dayton to area hospitals after a carbon monoxide leak. Earlier this month, two people were killed by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in a Newburgh, N.Y. home.
As of January, 29 states had enacted laws requiring some kind of CO alarms in homes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Ohio, area municipal officials say that since 2013, state regulations require new homes — or homes remodeled in particular ways — to have detectors.
Troy police Capt. Chris Anderson said he didn’t believe the Troy home had a detector.
“I did not hear anybody mention one, nor did I see one,” Anderson said.
Ohio law requires CO detectors be installed outside each bedroom in new homes that use gas or propane or include an attached garage. Any new bedroom added to older existing buildings will require the placement of a CO detector, as well. A code passed by the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Board of Building Standards in 2012 became effective Jan. 1, 2013.
Springfield follows the state mandate, said Roger Mick, certified building official for Springfield.
But Mick noted that he can’t go into homes without a reason. Building code enforcement doesn’t come into play until a possible violation or inspection requirement somehow comes to the city’s attention.
“Can we mandate someone to do something behind the closed doors of their home? If it isn’t mandated by some reason — no,” Mick said.
Springfield Fire Chief Nick Heimlich said imposing stricter regulations could cause problems.
“It’s a complicated question,” he said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Yes, we should make things more significantly regulated,’ but the question is how to do that. Who would enforce it? How do you regulate it?”
Regulations only affect new buildings or alterations to old buildings, Heimlich said, so the problem is that there are many older homes out there that aren’t regulated unless they are remodeled. Another problem, he said, is that each home is different, so people should be mindful of that in deciding how to individually approach CO safety.
“Regulation is not so readily imposed as one would think it would be,” he said.
Detectors are ‘cheap’
CO poisoning is eminently preventable, said Dr. Robert Rosenthal, director of hyberbaric medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
“And carbon monoxide detectors are cheap,” he added. “They are easy to find.”
The amount of CO in a home’s air will rise and fall as a home’s furnace cycles on and off during cold weather, he said. People often experience symptoms — feeling alternately good or bad — in conjunction with those cycles, he said. Beyond flu-like symptoms, nothing necessarily raises an alarm if CO levels are dangerously high, he said.
“If you’re sleeping, you’ll just stay asleep,” Rosenthal said. “It’s not painful.”
If a CO alarm goes off, don’t try to determine parts per million or CO levels in your home, Rosenthal advised. Just get out of the house with loved ones. Call 911 and let fire professionals deal with the situation.
Chimney flues should be checked before the heating season, Conway said. Portable generators should be positioned well outside of homes and garages, well away from a residence.
The city of Kettering has updated a grant program to make detectors available to income-qualified residents. Springfield doesn’t have a similar program, Heimlich said, but all fire division response vehicles carry detectors. If residents are concerned about the presence of carbon monoxide in their homes, firefighters can read the conditions and test for it instantly.
However, Heimlich said he would encourage people to buy a CO detector.
“I do it in my own home,” he said.