SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

November 18, 2012

Carbon monoxide poisoning

CARBON MONOXIDE

Officials sounding the alarm over gas

Last year, 400 people in Ohio poisoned by it

By Kathy Lynn Gray THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

When Columbus firefighter David J. Walton arrived at the North Side church, he found parishioners collapsed on the sanctuary floor, the pastor unconscious, a dazed church secretary at her desk and confused children throwing up in the bathroom.

“It was so bizarre to imagine that many people were not able to call for help,” Walton said yesterday as he recalled the scene from 13 years ago. “It just shows this can happen anywhere at any time.”

Walton, now a Columbus assistant fire chief, related the chilling story as he and other officials gathered outside an Ohio State University sorority house to remind the public of the dangers of carbon monoxide.    Gov. John Kasich has declared this week Carbon Monoxide Safety Awareness Week, prompting the gathering.

Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center, calls the gas the “great pretender” because it initially causes flu-like symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, weakness, headache and sleepiness.

  • He said 400 people in Ohio had carbon-monoxide poisoning last year. Nationwide, it kills about 400 people a year, he said.

That nearly happened two weeks ago at an apartment near the OSU campus.

  • Ron Serpico of Bexley said his daughter and her three roommates were awakened about 2 a.m. by the screech of the carbon-monoxide alarm.

When firefighters arrived, they found carbon monoxide at about twice the level that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says is safe.

“Had one of my daughter’s roommates not put in the alarm, they would all be dead,” Serpico said.

Spiller said carbon-monoxide alarms should be installed on each level of a structure and replaced every five years.

“There’s a lot of an opportunity for carbon monoxide to leak in a home,” Walton said.

Space heaters and furnaces are common sources, he said, as well as water heaters, fireplaces, gas stoves, generators and cars left running in attached garages.

A defective furnace caused the carbon-monoxide leak that sickened Ammie Turos and killed her 15-year-old son, James, during an ice storm eight years ago.

Yesterday, she said her son probably would be alive if there had been an alarm in her East Side home.

“A detector is the most-important thing to have,” she said. “People are just not educated about them. It’s worth the cost of a dinner or a night out.”

Beginning in January, every new one- and two-story house and townhouse built in Ohio must have carbon-monoxide alarms installed outside each sleeping area if the dwelling has fuel-burning appliances or an attached garage. The alarms also must be installed when work requiring a permit is done in a similar existing dwelling. Walton said he hopes that requirement will be extended to all homes in the future, as it is in some states. kgray@dispatch.com

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