Prevent poisoning deaths

Group will give away free carbon monoxide detectors

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The changing of clocks on Sunday may serve as a reminder that winter quickly is approaching.

But as residents close their windows for the season and begin winterizing their homes, it's also a good time to take potentially life-saving precautions against carbon monoxide poisoning, said Millie Beall, director of Routt County United Way.

"Now is the time when people are closing up their house and closing out the fresh air," said Beall, who is part of a community effort reminding residents of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, which kills more than 200 people a year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In addition to following common safety precautions, one of the easiest ways to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in homes is to install one or more carbon monoxide detectors, said Ace at the Curve store manager Scott Schlapkohl. The detectors cost between $20 and $63 at his store, he added.

To help people who may not be able to afford the detectors, Beall and others will be giving away free detectors during a Fall Safety Program from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Ace at the Curve.

The program is being held in memory of Beall's niece, 3-year-old Jane Griggs, who died earlier this year from carbon monoxide poisoning, Beall said.

The effort also is in remembrance of Del and Doris Scott, who died 20 years ago when a plugged venting pipe caused gas from a furnace to back up into their Steamboat Springs home.

Sponsored by the Beall and Scott families, as well as Atmos Energy and other businesses and community members, the program is meant to send the message that a relatively inexpensive device can save lives, Beall said.

"It just happens way too often, and it doesn't need to," she said.

A colorless and odorless gas, carbon monoxide is produced by burning fuels such as natural gas, propane, gasoline, charcoal and wood.

Sources of carbon monoxide include unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment, automobile exhaust from attached garages and tobacco smoke, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The gas impairs the body's ability to intake oxygen.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to flu symptoms and include headache, dizziness, nausea and abdominal pain. Confusion, shortness of breath and unconsciousness follow at higher gas levels. Further exposure can cause very low blood pressure, comas, seizures and death.

Survivors of carbon monoxide poisoning may suffer from neurological problems or brain damage.

Anyone who thinks they might be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning should open doors and windows, turn off any combustion appliances and leave the house. They also should contact emergency personnel and their gas provider. Gas companies usually have an emergency number for that purpose.

The community was reminded of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in December 2002 when members of a Roaring Fork High School girls basketball team were sent to the hospital after inhaling the gas leaked by a broken flue pipe from a boiler. The poisoning happened in a vacation duplex in Steamboat where the team stayed.

Earlier this month, Routt County Search and Rescue officials treated three hunters for carbon monoxide poisoning after they used a Coleman cooking stove for heat inside a tent. One man in the party got up several times during the night and noticed he was feeling sick. After having difficulty waking his hunting companions, he dragged them out of the tent and called for help.

In addition to never operating unvented gas-burning appliances or equipment in a closed space, people should not use gas ranges or ovens for heating and shouldn't burn charcoal indoors or in a garage.

"During the winter, the carbon monoxide situation that scares us the most is people who warm their car up in a garage, even if the door is open. It's creating an unsafe situation," said Karen Wilkes, manager of public affairs for Atmos Energy.

Working on a lawn mower in a closed garage or smoking a lot of cigarettes in a space with no ventilation also can result in an unhealthy build-up of carbon monoxide, Wilkes said, adding that it is also a good idea to have an open window or other source of fresh air available near a fireplace to replace the air sucked up by the chimney.

A major line of defense against carbon monoxide poisoning is to replace furnace filters annually and have a heating contractor inspect gas appliances to make sure they are working property.

Appliances produce little carbon monoxide when they are in good working condition.

Heating systems also should be inspected on an annual basis, Wilkes said.

Carbon monoxide detectors will help alert families if a leak occurs, but it's vital that families check the batteries on the devices according to recommended maintenance, Wilkes said.

The detectors often will go off if the battery is low. Those situations make up the bulk of calls Atmos Energy receives regarding possible carbon monoxide problems, she said.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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