Too often it takes tragedy to bring awareness, concern, and action to an issue. The life threatening danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is one such example. Just weeks ago, four young adults in Byron, Maine died as a result of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is often referred to as the “silent killer” because exposure to the poisonous gas is odorless and tasteless--making it difficult to recognize. However, exposure to the poison can be prevented--and early detection is possible.
This session, I sponsored a bill that was passed and will become law that will require more buildings such as schools, sorority and fraternity houses, childcare facilities, hotels, motels, and B&Bs to have carbon monoxide detectors. Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors are a sure way to warn us when danger is present. However, unlike smoke where you can smell and notice the threat, carbon monoxide is much more dangerous--without a detector, it is not noticeable. Gov. LePage vetoed the bill, but both the senate and house overrode his veto.
It comes down to this, according to law, smoke detectors are required everywhere; and now, this new measure asks the same for CO detectors.
My hope is that some day every building and home in Maine has a CO detector. For around $20 to $30 a CO detector can be purchased at nearly any store. Typically, they are battery powered and should be placed outside each sleeping area. It is worth the investment to have the peace of mind that you and your family will be alerted to the presence of this poisonous, odorless gas.
Over 100 emergency department visits occur each year in Maine because of carbon monoxide exposure, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control. Knowing the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure is important. Warning signs are flu-like symptoms without fever, such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion. Should you suspect CO poisoning, leave your house immediately and call 911. You can also call Northern New England Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. But most importantly, do not go back into the building until you know the carbon monoxide levels are safe.
Carbon monoxide exposure is more prevalent in winter months, when snow banks block air vents and generators are used for back up. In fact, carbon monoxide poisoning can rise as high as 30 cases of exposure per week.
Maine’s Emergency Management department advises a number of precautions:
Place generators outdoors in the fresh air, at least 15 feet away from home windows or doors;
Use kerosene heaters in a well-ventilated room, by either keeping doors to other rooms open or keeping a window partially open;
Use only K-1 grade fuel in kerosene heaters;
Do not use outdoor cooking devices indoors, such as gas or charcoal grills, gas camp stoves;
Do not use indoor gas cooking stoves for heat;
Keep chimney flue and a window open when burning decorative gas fireplace logs as a heat source.
But, carbon monoxide detectors are only one half of the solution toward ensuring safety. An aggressive statewide public awareness campaign about the dangers of carbon monoxide is integral to our collective safety. By utilizing organizations that are already invested in public safety--such as the state firefighters union and the Professional Firefighters of Maine-- we can spread the word on carbon monoxide safety and provide tips for avoiding common deadly mistakes. Currently, some local fire departments visit schools and teach children about fire safety. Carbon monoxide exposure and poisoning could be added to their curriculum. Just as we’ve seen with universal seatbelt usage, if we start early by teaching our kids on safety measures, they too can become strong messengers on the importance of CO detectors in the home. Energizing our schools and fire safety professionals will be my next step in hoping to find a straightforward way to get the message out.
Our efforts also need to expand beyond schools. Municipal organizations, community service groups, and many others need to take this on as a serious project. For example, perhaps a well known business would be willing to help finance the printing and distribution of print materials for or sponsor the production of a PSA for TV, radio, and local movie theaters. I pledge to help initiate such efforts in our communities and among our citizens.
The bottom line is that carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented. With increased CO detectors in use and widespread understanding about this “silent killer” lives can be saved.