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Christmas Day exposure incident highlights dangers of carbon monoxide

These Are The Symptoms Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Posted at 4:38 PM, Dec 26, 2019

CLEVELAND — Two people were hospitalized on Christmas Day after being exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, the colorless and tasteless gas that can cause flu-like symptoms and even death. Cleveland fire officials said carbon monoxide exposures are most frequent in the winter months with the highest prevalence in December and January.

Cleveland firefighters responded to a home on East 123rd Street on Christmas morning after two of the home’s tenants were taken to the hospital with carbon monoxide exposure-related symptoms. Once inside, fire officials said the CO levels were at 100 parts-per-million, roughly 10 times the maximum acceptable levels. After venting the home by opening several windows, investigators determined the exposure originated from the home’s faulty heating system. An issue with the flue caused the poisonous gas to build up inside the home, Lt. Mike Norman said.

Issues with the furnace or venting system inside a home are among the most common culprits for carbon monoxide poisoning.

“You want to make sure that anything that is burning fuel is vented properly. Most commonly it’s gas like a gas-powered furnace or a gas-heated water tank. Those things need to be vented outside,” Norman said. “You want to make sure those flues are open. A fireplace can do it as well. It’s anything that is burning. If you have a wood-burning fireplace you want to make sure that is venting to the outside and those gasses aren’t building up inside the house. That can another source for it.”

Depending on the level of exposure, carbon monoxide can cause symptoms and even death in a matter of minutes. Because the gas is odorless, tasteless and colorless, it can be difficult to detect without a working CO detector.

“That’s kind of the tricky thing about carbon monoxide is that a majority of the time you don’t know it’s a problem and it’s because it’s very hard to detect,” said University Hospitals Dr. Daniel McFarland. “Most people think they just have the flu, muscle aches, things like that. It’s an odorless gas so there is no way that you can actually smell it or detect it without having monitors in your home.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 50,000 Americans are exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide every year, resulting in more than 400 fatalities. In addition to avoiding running a car inside a closed garage as well as avoiding placing a generator too close to an open window, one of the most effective ways to avoiding carbon monoxide exposure is having a CO detector on every floor of your home, including the basement. Norman said it is good practice to replace the batteries on both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors twice a year.

As more people prepare to largely remain indoors for the winter, Norman said now is a critical time to ensure the detectors and your home’s HVAC system is working properly.

“With a really high dose, within five minutes it can be fatal,” Norman said.