Two construction workers were transported to Shock Trauma Tuesday morning after being exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) at a work site in Edgewater. Just after 10:05 a.m. firefighters responded to the 500 block of Bay View Point Drive for a patient who had experienced a seizure. Arriving firefighters located the patient sitting outside a house under construction and determined he had been one of several workers using gas powered equipment inside a poorly ventilated area. Firefighters using CO monitors found readings of 45 parts per million at the threshold of the house with suspected higher readings inside. The patient, a 46-year-old male was transported by paramedics to Shock Trauma in serious condition for treatment at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine. A second worker, a 56-year-old male, was also evaluated by paramedics on the scene and transported to the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine with serious injuries. A third worker, who had accompanied the first worker to the hospital to serve as an interpreter for paramedics, also complained of possible CO-related symptoms upon arrival at Shock Trauma.
Carbon monoxide is often called the invisible killer. It is an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel can be sources of carbon monoxide.
CO enters the body through breathing. CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning, and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness or headaches. High levels of CO can be fatal, causing death within minutes.
Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. For rapidly developing, high-level CO exposures (e.g., associated with the use of generators in residential spaces), victims can quickly become mentally confused, and can lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms; they will likely die if not rescued.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers the following carbon monoxide safety tips:
- CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
- Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
- Call your local fire department’s non-emergency number to find out what number to call if the CO alarm sounds.
- Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.
- If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel arrive.
- If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
- During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
- A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors, and vent openings.
- Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.