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Dec-21-2006 17:16printcomments

Oregon Health Officials Warn of Carbon Monoxide Danger

Carbon monoxide kills. It is not worth the risk to burn alternative fuels in the house.

carbon monoxide poisoning
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(SALEM) - In the wake of at least five reported carbon monoxide deaths and 100 illnesses in the Northwest this week, public health officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services are reminding people that it's never safe to burn alternative fuels inside their homes.

"In these recent cases, power outages and extreme cold caused people to seek ways to keep warm," said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist in the DHS Public Health Division. "But you should not burn gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal inside your home. Even operating devices that burn these fuels inside a basement, garage or near an open window can be dangerous."

Kohn said the danger is that these devices produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless and lethal gas that can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. If people breathe too much of the gas, they are poisoned because red blood cells pick up carbon monoxide faster than they do oxygen. Thus, oxygen is prevented from getting into the body and the result is tissue damage and even death.

"Carbon monoxide can poison you to death while you sleep, but it's completely preventable," Kohn said.

Kohn advised the following:

• Never use any kind of gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal burning device inside your home or garage; • Install and test at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home, and check the batteries annually; • Do not run a car or truck inside an attached garage, even if the door is open; • Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented; • Never heat your house with a gas oven.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. However, people who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from poisoning before ever having symptoms, according to Kohn.

It is estimated that each year, more than 500 Americans needlessly die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, Kohn noted. DHS data for Oregon shows that in the past two years, 10 people died of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

AVOID DANGERS ASSOCIATED WITH POWER GENERATORS Improper use of power generators can cause carbon monoxide poisoning and create electrical and fire hazards. Prevention tips below: CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING • Never use any kind of gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal burning device inside your home or garage. • Install and test at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home, and check the batteries annually. • Do not run a car or truck inside an attached garage, even if the door is open. • Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented. • Never heat your house with a gas oven.

SHOCK AND ELECTROCUTION • Keep the generator dry. Operate it on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure. Do not touch the generator with wet hands. • Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy-duty, outdoor extension cord that is rated, in watts and amps, at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Be sure there are no cuts or tears on the cord and the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin. • Never try to power household wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. This poses an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses built-in household circuit protection devices. • If you must connect the generator to household wiring, ask a qualified electrician to install equipment in accordance with local electric codes. Or ask the utility company to install a power transfer switch. • Permanently installed stationary generators are best suited for providing backup power during a power outage. Even a properly connected portable generator can become overloaded, possibly leading to generator failure.

FIRE • Never store generator fuel inside the house. Gasoline, propane, kerosene and other flammable liquids should be stored outside living areas in labeled, non-glass safety containers. Do not store them near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage. If fuel is spilled or the container improperly sealed, vapors can travel along the ground and be ignited by the appliance’s pilot light or by arcs from electric switches in the appliance. • Turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.

Additional information is on the Web at www.cdc.gov/co/default.htm.

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Curmudgeon December 22, 2006 1:11 pm (Pacific time)

Well now... according to this guy (a doctor) I guess I have to get rid of my natural gas range, water heater, fireplace, and furnace. After 30 years of living safely with them, they are suddenly dangerous, and are going to kill me. Obviously, having M.D. after your name doesn't necessarily mean you're smart or have common sense. This fits right in with the people who are saying we should never burn candles because they might start a fire. Are we just supposed to use them for decoration? I expect we will soon start seeing candles sold without wicks. 500 deaths a year from CO is certainly too many, but in a population of 300 million people that is a tiny, tiny number. That works out to 1 in 600,000. Most of those 500 can probably be attributed to stupidity or lack of common sense. Sounds like natural selection in operation. I wonder if this is the same guy who wrote the warning "For use by trained personnel only," on the can of air freshener?

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