Carbon monoxide a stealthy foe, public urged to take precautions

Heavy snow and power outages underline need to check monitors, ensure proper venting

It’s a stealthy killer, but one that, if recognized, can easily be stopped.

Autumn and winter are when an increase in potentially lethal carbon monoxide poisoning takes place. As an odourless, colourless and tasteless gas, it’s not easily detected.

Laura McLeod, a spokesperson for Technical Safety BC, points to an instance on Vancouver Island in November when an adult and a child were taken to hospital, with the likely cause being a malfunctioning gas fireplace.

Last winter, three children and five adults in the Fraser Valley were treated for carbon monoxide exposure, which was caused by a vent connector that had dislodged from a chimney.

Last year in Winnipeg, she said, people in a motel developed carbon monoxide poisoning possibly due to a faulty boiler.

Technical Safety BC recommends buying Canadian-certified carbon monoxide alarms and never ignoring the device’s warning sound. Portable, battery-operated models are available if the power goes out, which McLeod recommends also using in Airbnbs, motels, hotels and even longer-term rentals.

If your home alarm is more than seven years old it should be replaced and, if it doesn’t have a date on it, it’s very likely ready for retirement.

Read more: Carbon monoxide alarms at Salmon Arm RBC prompt evacuations

Read more: 46 people in hospital after suspected carbon monoxide leak at Winnipeg hotel

For gas-fueled appliances, lack of maintenance is often one of the causes of carbon monoxide problems. Technical Safety BC recommends an annual appliance inspection.

“Gas is a technology where people need to use a licensed contractor registered with Technical Safety BC. It can’t be done by any handyperson,” said McLeod, adding that wood stoves can also create carbon monoxide.

McLeod has heard about the recent evacuations on two consecutive days at a Salmon Arm bank when the carbon monoxide detectors went off, but she hasn’t received a follow-up yet. The Salmon Arm Fire Department reported after the two evacuations that no cause had been determined.

One danger when there are power outages is that people will be tempted to bring in portable propane stoves or barbecues to cook or generate heat, or use portable generators. All produce carbon monoxide.

“It’s very important that those items not be used indoors,” McLeod said.

Regarding furnaces, Steve Genn with Proair Heating & Cooling said they are built with the knowledge there will be power outages, so nothing hazardous happens to them when the power goes out.

Another issue for homes can be snow, or even leaves, which can block appliance vents, keeping the dangerous gas inside.

Although McLeod does not have statistics of carbon-monoxide poisoning in B.C. in 2019 yet, she provided statistics compiled by the BC Coroners Service. Between 2008 and 2017, 119 carbon monoxide-related poisoning deaths were reported in the province.



marthawickett@saobserver.net

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Technical Safety BC recommends an annual inspection of appliances and vents. (File photo)

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