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Carbon monoxide can be a 'silent killer'

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

A case of widespread carbon monoxide poisoning Saturday at a New York mall is a reminder of how deadly the “silent killer” can be, according to a local official.

“I cannot overemphasize how dangerous carbon monoxide is,” said Henry County Public Safety Director Rodney Howell.

According to Associated Press reports, a restaurant manager died and more than two dozen others were taken to hospitals Saturday after they were overcome by carbon monoxide at a restaurant at a mall in Huntington Station, N.Y. Those affected included rescue personnel who responded to the scene.

Howell said carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion.

“They call it the silent killer,” Howell said of carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to Howell and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), red blood cells pick up carbon monoxide quicker than they pick up oxygen, which can block oxygen from getting into the body, damage tissues and lead to death.

“It’s colorless, odorless, tasteless, so you’ll never know you are getting it until you are overcome or start feeling side effects,” he said.

Those side effects include headache, nausea, vomiting, light-headedness and possibly loss of consciousness, he said.

A small dose of carbon monoxide over a long time can be as dangerous as a large dose over a shorter time, Howell said.

Several years ago, some people died inside a home in Henry County where they were remodeling, using a gas-powered appliance indoors in cold weather, Howell said.

On another occasion in Henry County, one person died after sleeping in a tent beside a recreational vehicle that was running, Howell said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sources of carbon monoxide include: “unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke.”

It added: “Incomplete oxidation during combustion in gas ranges and unvented gas or kerosene heaters may cause high concentrations of CO (carbon monoxide) in indoor air. Worn or poorly adjusted and maintained combustion devices (e.g., boilers, furnaces) can be significant sources, or if the flue is improperly sized, blocked, disconnected, or is leaking. Auto, truck, or bus exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, or parking areas can also be a source.”

If people think they are feeling side effects of carbon monoxide, they should “immediately go outside in the fresh air and then call 911,” Howell said. “All the fire departments and most of the rescue squads have carbon monoxide monitors,” he said.

Carbon monoxide poisoning requires immediate medical attention, he added.

Appliances should be checked by a technician according to the manufacturer’s recommendations — usually annually, Howell said.

“Appliances made today have a lot of safety features. Still you need (carbon monoxide) detectors. That’s the cheapest insurance you’ll ever buy,” Howell said,

For a small house on one floor, one detector probably would be enough, he said. For a larger house and with more levels, more detectors would be needed. Detectors should be placed near sleeping areas, according to the CDC.

The EPA gave these other prevention tips:

• Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off.

• Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.

• Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one.

• Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.

• Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.

• Open flues when fireplaces are in use.

• Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.

• Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up the central heating system (furnaces, flues and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.

• Do not idle the car inside the garage.


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