WASHINGTON – More people have died or suffered injuries related to carbon-monoxide poisoning this year than in the previous six years combined in Maryland.
The deadly gas has killed five people and injured eight others so far in 1997. By comparison, three people died and six were injured by carbon monoxide from 1990 to 1996, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported.
Now that cold weather is here, the CPSC recommends that homeowners have all heating appliances inspected for signs of leaking carbon monoxide, dubbed the “senseless” killer because it is colorless and odorless.
“CO [carbon-monoxide] poisoning associated with the use of fuel-burning appliances kills more than 200 people each year and sends about 10,000 to hospital emergency rooms for treatment,” said CPSC Chairwoman Ann Brown in an agency statement.
These appliances include furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters. Burning charcoal and running cars also emit CO gas, which is produced when fuel is not completely burned.
The most recent carbon-monoxide poisoning case in Maryland was on Oct. 23, when a District Heights family of three was hospitalized after the gas leaked from their furnace. Four days earlier, a Rockdale woman and five children were rushed to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center after a blocked chimney caused carbon monoxide to back up into the house.
In May, five people were killed in their Silver Spring home — Prakash and Esther Raman, their 20-year-old son Rishi Dev, 19- year-old daughter Rehanna, and a cousin, Lalchan Jagroo, 47, — when a car left running overnight in the garage filled the house with deadly fumes.
The CPSC said many victims delay seeking treatment because they mistake CO poisoning for the flu. Early symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath.
The agency recommends annual inspections of home-heating systems. Chimneys also should be checked annually for blockages, corrosion and disconnections, falling debris or soot. Homeowners should be on the lookout for loose or missing furnace panels or moisture on the inside of windows.
Professional inspections can turn up internal appliance damage or malfunctioning components, improper burner adjustment and hidden chimney blockages and damage that may lead to CO problems.
“Modern heating equipment requires special training and tools for proper maintenance,” Brown said. “Consumers should not service their own appliances, but have a qualified plumber, heating contractor or gas company technician perform an inspection every year.”
Newer homes also contribute to the higher rate of carbon- monoxide poisoning, said Deputy State Fire Marshall W. Faron Taylor, because they “are insulated much better and are much tighter.
“Older homes are drafty and harder to heat, but there’s a free flow of air from outside,” he said. Outside air helps to ventilate older houses and keep carbon monoxide from building up to dangerous levels.
Mark Ross, a CPSC spokesman, said gas appliances that are 15 years or older are of particular concern because they are more likely to have uncoated brass connectors. They can crack and leak gas fumes, which can result in fire or explosion.
The older connectors should be replaced with stainless steel or coated connectors, which have proven to be safer, he said.
Underwriters Laboratory-approved CO detectors should also be installed in hallways near bedrooms, says the CPSC. The detectors, which sound an alarm before carbon monoxide reaches dangerous levels, cost between $20 and $100 and can be found in most hardware stores.