Low temperatures increase carbon monoxide risk

As temperatures plummet, many of us will retreat indoors to hunker down and stay warm.

Staying safe, however, can be challenging during winter months when the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning peaks due to more furnace use, more cars being warmed up, more power outages and electricity bill disputes like the one cited in the death last year of 40-year-old Sederick Baliem Sr. and his 11-year-old son Sederick Baliem III.

The East Point father and son died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by exhaust from a gas generator Baliem Sr. was using to heat his home’s basement.

According to a report issued recently by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, portable generators are more often than not the culprit in carbon monoxide deaths, accounting for more than 85 percent — or 800 out of 931 — of non-fire deaths between 1999 and 2012.

Twenty-three percent of generator-related fatalities involved African-Americans like the Baliems, the report said. And men of any race were most likely to die from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, accounting for 73 percent of the deaths.

Dr. Sean Sue, clinical director of Piedmont Atlanta Hospital’s emergency department, said emergency physicians are on alert for such poisonings during winter months when the risk for carbon monoxide poisoning tends to peak.

“People are at greater risk for carbon monoxide poisoning as it gets colder and we turn to things like space heaters, fireplaces and sometimes even wood stoves — all of which produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct,” he said.

Sue said carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to detect and diagnose because the symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses, including: headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting and other flu-like symptoms, chest pain, diarrhea and confusion.

He said long-term side effects are rare, unless you have been exposed to carbon monoxide for a long length of time.

“When someone is exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide, it can cause loss of consciousness and even death,” Sue said.

To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, Sue suggested taking these steps:

• Buy a carbon monoxide detector for your home. Ideally, have one on every floor of your home.

• Have a certified technician service appliances in your home. Make sure your dryer, HVAC system and gas stoves are properly maintained.

• Don’t use ovens or stoves to heat your home.

• Don’t use gas or kerosene heaters in enclosed spaces.

• Do not run generators on porches or attached garages.

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