A column by Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning kills about 500 people and sends more than 15,000 people to emergency rooms each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the past several years, Pennsylvania has had the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of accidental CO poisoning deaths in the country.
That is why I introduced Senate Bill 920, legislation that would require homeowners, upon the sale of their homes, to demonstrate that the structure is equipped with a CO detector. According to the National Fire Protection Association, over 80 percent of carbon monoxide incidents occur in the home. The minimal cost of these detectors is a small price to pay to save lives and protect families in their homes.
My legislation would apply to homes and multi-family dwellings (such as apartments) that have fossil fuel burning heaters or appliances. It also applies to those with an attached garage. Apartments would be required to install an alarm following the law’s effective date.
You cannot see or smell carbon monoxide, but at high levels, it can kill a person in minutes. CO is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 83 percent of Pennsylvania housing uses some form of fossil fuel-burning heating system, which can generate CO.
If appliances that burn those types of fuels are well maintained and properly ventilated, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result.
Since the gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless, CO alarms are the only safe way to alert people of its presence before it becomes harmful or fatal. At moderate levels, CO can cause severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea, and fainting. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses, many people may not realize that CO poisoning could be the cause.
While I hope my bill will be enacted into law, I urge you not to wait. Protect your family by installing CO detector alarms on each floor of your home, especially on each sleeping floor. Install additional detectors near, but not within five feet of, major fuel burning appliances. Here are a few other steps you can take to prevent CO poisoning:
- Never idle a car in a garage – even if the outside garage door is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home.
- Never use gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chain saws, small engines or generators) in enclosed spaces.
- Never use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
- Never use a charcoal grill indoors, even in a fireplace.
- Never sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
I believe that we can save lives and significantly reduce carbon monoxide related poisonings by making sure that more homes in the Commonwealth are equipped with these alarms. Now is the time to act before more Pennsylvanians fall victim to this deadly killer.