Ten stricken by CO gas
Monday, 23 December 2013 13:55

Homes did not have detectors required by law

by John G. Bailey

Ten people were overcome with carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning at two separate locations in Dundalk on the morning of Thursday, Dec. 19.
    Baltimore County Fire Department (BCFD) first responded to a call for an unconscious seizure victim in the 1600 block of Manor Road. Upon arriving, responders found several residents complaining of symptoms consistent with CO poisoning. Six patients were taken to University Hospital for treatment.
    According to Lt. Paul Massarelli of the Baltimore County Fire Rescue Academy, the carbon monoxide in the Manor Road residence measured 600 parts per million (ppm). Safe levels of the gas are concentrations that do not exceed 30 ppm.

The residences on either side of the home also contained excessive levels of CO and the inhabitants were evacuated.
    The BCFD then responded to a second call in the 7900 block of St. Monica Drive to find four victims with symptoms of CO poisoning. They were transported to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The level of CO at the North Point Village address was measured at 120 ppm.
    The condition of the 10 people hospitalized did not appear to be life threatening, Massarelli said. No further medical information was available by press time.
    CO is a tasteless, orderless and colorless chemical produced from the incomplete burning of natural gas or other fuels containing carbon.
    When CO replaces oxygen in the bloodstream, organs become starved for oxygen,  resulting in symptoms that include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, convulsions, fainting, hyperactivity, impaired judgment and a rapid or impaired heartbeat.
    Signs of CO poisoning should not be ignored. According to U.S. National Library of Medicine, thousands of North Americans die each year from CO poisoning — and it is the leading cause of poisoning death in the U.S.           
    All people are vulnerable, but children, the elderly, smokers and people with heart and lung disease are more susceptible to CO poisoning than other groups. The gas also effects human fetuses.
    Poisoning is cumulative; the adverse effects and symptoms of CO may not be apparent upon first contact with the gas. When symptoms are detected, people should immediately seek fresh air and call 911 for professional medical assistance.
    Closed windows and the need for heat generated from carbon-burning appliances make winter the most dangerous season for CO poisoning. However, the harzard exists year-round.        
    Gas-powered generators used when storms in any season knock out electricity are a major cause of CO poisoning. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control  (CDC) estimated that one-half of all non-fatal CO poisonings during the 2004-05 hurricane season were traceable to portable CO-producing generators.
    The CDC recommends that if generators are used, they should be placed outdoors and away from doors and windows.    
    According to Massarelli, initial investigations concluded that malfunctioning furnaces at both Dundalk addresses were probably the source of the gas. Neither of the residences had CO monitoring devices.
    Maryland law requires the installation of battery-operated CO alarms outside each sleeping area of a residence or in close proximity to CO-producing equipment. Disabling of CO alarms is prohibited. Home vendors are also required to inform purchasers whether or not detection units have been installed.
    Home owners and renters should routinely check the batteries in CO alarms.