Carbon Monoxide podcast transcript - November 15, 2007

Nancy Torner, MDH Communications
Kathleen Norlien, MDH Environmental Health

Nancy: Welcome to this podcast on carbon monoxide with the Minnesota Department of Health. I’m Nancy Torner, from the MDH Communications Office. With me is Kathleen Norlien, a research scientist with the Health Department – Air Quality Program. Kathleen, I understand there’s a new state law that says people must install carbon monoxide alarms in all single family and multifamily residences. When does this law start?

Kathleen: Actually you’re right, there is a new law and the schedule for installing carbon monoxide alarms vary. If a building permit has been issued since January 1st of 2007 for any kind of construction of a housing unit, either multifamily or a single family, alarms must be installed, before anyone can occupy the building. Owners of single family homes built before 2007 have until August 1st of 2008, to install their alarms and owners of multifamily dwellings built before 2007 have until August 1st of 2009. All alarms must conform to the latest Underwriter Laboratory standards and they must be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Some alarms plug into an electrical wall socket, usually with battery backup and others run on batteries alone, which makes them more flexible on where they can be placed. If using a battery run alarm, we recommend replacing the batteries every time you change your clocks in the fall and in the spring.

Nancy: Why was this law passed?

Kathleen: Well carbon monoxide is a gas that can kill people if they breathe too much of it, because people cannot smell, taste or see carbon monoxide, they may not know that their even being poisoned until it’s too late to escape. The law is intended to save lives.

Nancy: Are there any warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Kathleen: Well the first and most common sign is a headache and shortness of breath with just simple activities. Continued exposure can cause more severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, followed by confusion and poor coordination, irritability and even loss of consciousness and eventually death. The symptoms go away once you move to fresh air and areas free of carbon monoxide.

Nancy: Where does carbon monoxide come from?

Kathleen: Well carbon monoxide is produced when any material burns. It can include natural gas, liquid petroleum, oil, kerosene, coal or wood. Extra amounts of the gas are produced, when there isn’t enough oxygen for the efficient burn of that fuel. Some appliances produce more carbon monoxide than others and things like for example a 5.5 kilowatt generator can produce the same amount of carbon monoxide, as six idling cars. Common sources of carbon monoxide inside the home include malfunctioning furnaces, hot water heaters, gas appliances, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces and even wood burning stoves. Running cars, lawnmowers and gas powered generators and other engines used in confined spaced such as garages can also be dangerous.

Nancy: If all of these things can cause carbon monoxide poisoning where’s the best place to put one of these alarms?

Kathleen: Well Minnesota state law says that the alarms must be placed within 10 feet of every room used for sleeping. In multifamily dwellings these alarms must be provided for the tenants and they also must be placed within 10 feet of every bedroom used for sleeping purposes. After installation deadlines pass, any missing or inoperable alarms must be replaced before a new occupant can move into that type of housing unit.

Nancy: Where can people get these alarms, if they’re the ones who have to buy them?

Kathleen: UL approved alarms are available at nearly any hardware or discount department stores. They cost between $20 for the basic alarm, up to $50 for an alarm that might have a digital readout and other more fancy features. Alarms must be replaced every five to 10 years, according to the manufacturer instructions, because the sensors work for only a limited amount of time.

Nancy: Even if people have the alarms is there something else that they can do to protect themselves from carbon monoxide poisoning?

Kathleen: There sure is. Make sure that all appliances are installed properly and your furnace and other gas run appliances should be checked and serviced annually, by a trained technician. Make sure all your family members know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and remember smoke alarms do not detect carbon monoxide and vice versa. You need both smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms in your homes. Don’t wait until you must install an alarm. Play it safe and do it now.

Nancy: Thank you Kathleen for being a guest on this podcast. We invite our listeners to check back regularly for other podcasts on important health topics.

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Updated Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 12:31PM