Carbon monoxide poisoning potentially lethal threat


    By Adrienne Babbitt

    As chilly weather creeps into Provo so does carbon monoxide, a phantom killer sneaking into homes and apartments with gas burning appliances. However, new research by a BYU professor warns this suspected uncommon assassin, is quietly stealing the good health of thousands.

    Carbon monoxide exposure, even at low levels, has serious long-term affects, said Ramona Hopkins, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and BYU and a senior research associate in critical care medicine at LDS Hospital.

    “The greatest danger is people don”t recognize carbon monoxide as a problem. It can happen to anybody. It can cause permanent damage,” Hopkins said.

    Hopkins said that students are at potential risk and can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by using carbon monoxide detectors in the apartments.

    The studies published this year precede a recent warning by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to have carbon monoxide detectors and professional inspections of all fuel-burning appliances including furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, clothes dryers, and grills.

    “Each year, CO poisoning associated with using fuel-burning appliances kills about 200 people,” said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. “Having this inspection could prevent a terrible tragedy.”

    However, Hopkin”s research reveals the problem harms far more people. Each year there are 50,000 emergency room visits due to carbon monoxide poisoning, but many individuals with carbon monoxide poisoning are not aware they are being poisoned because the symptoms are similar to the flu, Hopkins said.

    “Every person I see says they had no idea,” Hopkins said.

    Individuals ignorant about the poisoning suffer from permanent cognitive problems including dysfunction in memory, decision-making, and information processing, Hopkins said.

    Poisoning can only be prevented by detection, Hopkins said. Forty dollars to $50 may seem expensive for a detector, but will be an investment well worth it if it prevents them from a $800-$1000 emergency room visit, Hopkins said.

    Off campus housing is not required to have CO detectors. The housing office recommends students purchase their own, said John Pace, manager of off campus housing. They do ask owners to check furnaces regularly, but if students have any concerns they can contact the housing office.

    “We will ask the owners to take steps necessary to correct the problem,” Pace said.

    Detectors have been improved, said a CPSC spokesman. The CPSC has worked with the Underwriters Laboratories to produce detectors that do not sound as many false alarms as previous models. Detectors now alarm during high CO levels and low levels that last for a long time.

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