‘Silent Killer’ Increases During Winter Months

By Beacon Staff

As winter storms continue to bring cold temperatures and prodigious snowfall to the Flathead Valley, area safety officials warn that residents may be turning on heaters and other appliances unaware that they could be filling their home with poisonous gas.

“The monitor is just in the wall and if it never goes off, or if you don’t have one, you don’t think about it,” Wendy Jacobson of the Flathead City- County Health Department said.

Carbon monoxide poisoning claims approximately 450 lives, and causes more than 15,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms, annually, according to the national Centers for Disease Control. The winter months – December, January, and February – account for more than 40 percent of annual carbon monoxide poisoning cases.

Here in the Flathead, 17-year-old Ian Hineman died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his family’s guesthouse two weeks ago, when a blocked exhaust vent filled the home with the gas. Hineman’s family and friends are now sponsoring “Ian’s Challenge,” a 10 percent discount on carbon monoxide detectors at four local retailers – Western Building Centers, Lowe’s, Cardinal True Value and The Home Depot. The discount is good through March 31.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas produced by several common household appliances, including boilers and furnaces, during combustion. Other sources include motor-vehicle exhaust, generators and other gasoline or diesel-powered engines, gas space heaters, woodstoves, gas stoves, fireplaces and charcoal grills.

When not properly ventilated, carbon monoxide can build up, and when inhaled, can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation and nausea, and over exposure can cause lasting brain damage or death.

With heavy snowfalls here, DC Hass, assistant fire chief of the Kalispell Fire Department, said home and business owners should be sure to clear exhaust and chimney vents where snow could cause blockages and force gas back into the building.

Here is a list of recommendations from local heating and ventilation professionals, area fire departments and the CDCP to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

• Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.

• Clear heavy snow loads from roof exhaust or chimney vents; blocking these vents may allow poisonous furnace exhaust gas to seep back into the building.

• Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home and check or replace the battery regularly. Detectors are available at local hardware stores. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.

• Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.

• Don’t use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.

• Don’t run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.

• Don’t burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.

• Don’t heat your house with a gas oven.