Carbon monoxide poisonings prompt warning

Dec 21, 2012

Augusta — Health officials tracking the seasonal increase in carbon monoxide poisonings in Maine are urging Mainers to heat their homes safely this winter and to be extremely cautious while working on engines in garages.

Since November, seven people have been sent to a hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Malfunctioning home heating sources were the cause of five of these poisonings and two people were poisoned while working in their garages, one from exhaust that built up while working on a car engine and the other from space heaters.

In Maine, about 75 percent of all reported cases of carbon monoxide poisoning occur between November and March.

“The cases we have seen so far this season reflect what our data continue to tell us are the biggest risks for carbon monoxide poisoning,” said MeCDC Director Dr. Sheila Pinette in a news release.

Most poisonings are caused by home heating systems or other home heating appliances that are not working properly or that have blocked vents. Anything that burns fuel, such as an oil or propane boiler or wood stove, produces carbon monoxide. When these appliances are not properly maintained or vented, carbon monoxide can build up inside a home without anyone noticing.

“We are also highly concerned about people who leave motors running while they work on them in garages or in out buildings. This is extremely dangerous, even if windows or doors are open,” Pinette said.

About one in five cases each year occur in garages, sheds, or barns while people conduct engine repair or maintenance.

In another recent event, a carbon monoxide detector alerted a family to the presence of the poisonous gas coming from a wood stove, allowing them to get out of their home safely. The overwhelming majority of poisonings reported to ME-CDC involve areas where there are no carbon monoxide detectors present.

“Having an electric carbon monoxide detector with a battery backup near where people sleep can save lives and is especially important when heating your home. But it is even more important to keep carbon monoxide from ever building up in your home,” said Pinette. Carbon monoxide cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, and can be deadly.

“Make sure your heating system is running safely, check flues for nests or other blockages, don’t let engines run in the garage and put fresh batteries in your carbon monoxide detector or get a detector if you don’t have one,” said Pinette. “These are the best things you can do to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning this winter.”

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