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Porters, Handymen, and Doorman, or PHD's Blog
  Carbon Monoxide (CO) Ė The Silent Killer  
  By Joseph J. Reinhart and David M. Harris, ARM of NY




Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning is a subject that people know very little about and due to recent legislation is quickly becoming a topic of interest for New York City building owners and managers.

In North America, CO is the cause of as many as 70,000 emergency room visits a year and thousands of deaths. Up to 30 per cent of survivors of severe poisoning are left with disabling psychological and neurological symptoms, which sometimes last for years. In early January of 2004, the New York Fire Department issued a press release entitled New York City Fire Department Reminds All New Yorkers of the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide. This press release relayed the recent CO deaths of a four-year-old girl and her father who died in the Bronx of CO poisoning. Two other family members were critically injured.

Under the State Fire Prevention and Building Code, which governs all areas of the state except NYC, CO alarms must be installed and maintained in all newly constructed homes and condominiums, and all homes offered for sale. The alarms are required to be installed in the immediate vicinity of a bedroom or bedrooms on the lowest floor level of the dwelling unit. The State OFPC strongly recommends the installation of additional CO alarms, including one outside of a furnace room and others, as necessary, to ensure an alarm will be heard in all areas of the home. Although the current State Code does not cover existing dwelling or any residences in New York City, all New Yorkers are encourage to install CO alarms as a safety precaution. However, there is legislation requiring the installation of CO detectors in various multiple dwellings and other rental premises where the dwelling unit contains or is serviced by a gas-fueled or an oil-fueled appliance or device. This bill once passes would be know as "Daniel's Law" and is named in honor of Daniel J. Watson of Westchester who in January 2003 died in his apartment of CO intoxication.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon Monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels including gas, oil, coal and wood used in boilers, engines, oil burners, gas fires, water heaters, solid fuel appliances such as wood burning stoves, fireplaces and open fires. CO has no taste, smell or color and is lighter than air. Dangerous amounts of CO can accumulate as a result of poor equipment installation, poor maintenance of equipment, failure or damage to appliances or when rooms are poorly ventilated and CO is unable to escape.

Most people associate CO with winter time heating problems, however, any fuel-burning appliance that is not adequately vented and maintained can be a potential source of CO.

What Are the Effects Of CO?
Carbon monoxide enters the body through inhalation and inhibits the blood's ability to carry oxygen to body tissues including vital organs such as the heart and brain.

Low to moderate levels of CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning or other illnesses and can have a long term health risk if left unattended. Symptoms include shortness of breath, mild nausea, dizziness and headaches. High levels of exposure can be fatal causing death in minutes. Recently, studies have been performed to show that chronic CO poisoning can result in long term, residual effects on our bodies.

Minimizing Ones Exposure
There are certain steps that you can take to minimize CO exposure.

1. At the beginning of every heating season, have a trained professional check all fuel-burning appliances such as oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fire places and wood stoves.

2. Keep chimneys and flues clean especially at the base were soot can accumulate and cause a blockage.

3. Provide chimney caps to prevent animals from falling into the chimney or building nests that can disrupt airflow.

4. Do not attempt to heat your home with the oven or stove.

5. Never use a charcoal grill indoors.

6. Never allow oneís vehicle to idle in the garage and never startup gasoline powered equipment such as snow blowers, lawnmowers, chain saws or generators inside.

7. Check the color of the appliance flame. If the flame is orange there is a problem. However, a blue flame does not necessarily mean that itís safe. Have the appliances checked periodically.

8. Make certain that there is adequate ventilation.

9. Make sure there is a working low level carbon monoxide detector in the living area of every floor or apartment to provide an early warning of the presents of carbon monoxide.

If you are a building owner or manager, your staff should be performing statutory and routine maintenance inspections of all equipment. Additionally, a log should be maintained describing any services performed (e.g. battery replacements, replaced units, etc.) Tenants should be provided with information on how to self-test each CO detector, identify damaged equipment warning signs and the procedures to follow in the event of CO exposure. But beware, even if you have taken these steps, you may still be liable if one of your tenants becomes ill or worse dies from exposure to CO.

For your own and your tenantís peace of mind, the best way to reduce CO exposure liabilities is to provide each tenant with a combination carbon monoxide and smoke detector for each room.

Joseph J. Reinhart and David M. Harris are with ARM of NY, headquartered in New York City. A.R.M. of NY is a professional insurance services firm that provides risk management and insurance brokerage services in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. For more information about A.R.M. of NY:

Copyright © 2004. A.R.M. of NY. Inc. All Rights Reserved


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