The Times West Virginian

Opinion

February 16, 2014

Some simple steps can stop senseless deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning

The weather forecast for the coming week calls for a break in the snow and temperatures in the 50s for a few days.

Nevertheless, it’s no time to take our minds off a potentially deadly hazard of the heating season — carbon monoxide poisoning.

Marion County Homeland Security and Emergency Management director Chris McIntire said last week that since January, the 911 center has had 30 calls regarding carbon monoxide poisoning.

“We’re very concerned about that,” he said. “It’s a very serious and dangerous issue.”

The figures, McIntire noted, are much higher than the five to 10 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning reported during a typical winter in the county.

“I think it’s due to the extreme cold that’s been happening,” he explained. “People are doing whatever it takes to stay warm, and I think it’s causing a lot of these issues.”

Since last Sunday, at least 10 people in Marion County have been hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Seven were workers at a Marcellus Shale pump station owned by Momentum M3 Appalachia Gas Gathering, LLC, on Toothman Run Road in the Grant Town area off Paw Paw Road. The incident took place last Sunday.

According to Fairview Volunteer Fire Department chief Steve Gillespie, workplace safety negligence was the cause.

“There was a big tent with no ventilation and no fans,” Gillespie said. The tent contained two gas welders, two generators, and a couple of large and small turbo heaters.

“That raised the CO levels,” he said. “The heaters have been running a week to bring the temperature up inside the tent to above 80 degrees.”

Emergency services shut down work in the tent, which was being operated by Jarrell Contractors, which operates out of North Carolina. The seven workers in the tent were transported to Ruby Memorial, Fairmont General and Monongalia General hospitals for carbon monoxide poisoning.

“These guys are lucky to be alive,” Gillespie said. He said that according to a company representative, all workers have now been released.

Emergency services were dispatched to a residence on Darby Street in Worthington at around 2:50 a.m. Tuesday.

“There was a malfunction in the heating system, and it was putting carbon monoxide into the house,” McIntire said;

Three people were taken to the hospital, with vehicles sent to Fairmont General, UPMC in Pittsburgh and Ruby Memorial.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced when fuel is burned. Typically, the gas is safely vented out of homes and work places.

Colder-than-average weather, though, has meant that people are running their heaters more, perhaps also choosing to bring outdoor-only heaters inside without creating proper ventilation. The cold can also damage vent pipes. Cars left warming up in an enclosed garage can also cause hazardous carbon monoxide levels.

Carbon monoxide poisoning deprives the heart, brain and other vital organs of needed oxygen. There are warning signs that must not be ignored. Initial symptoms may include dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness and nausea. After prolonged exposure, symptoms may intensify to include vomiting, confusion, collapse, loss of consciousness and muscle weakness.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly.

“First thing, if you think you have it in the house, go outside of the house and call 911. We’ll send someone out with a detector to check,” McIntire said. “The best thing is to limit your exposure to it. If you have high enough levels, it can be deadly within 30 minutes or so.”

It’s best not to rely on feeling the symptoms. Carbon monoxide detectors, priced at about $15-20 each, can save lives. If the gas builds up in homes overnight when occupants are asleep, residents may not regain consciousness.

Be vigilant during the remainder of the heating season. Awareness and a few simple steps can stop the silent killer, carbon monoxide.

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