Terri Ferguson Smith
Widespread media attention to two separate incidents of multiple carbon monoxide poisonings over the weekend can be a warning to those unfamiliar with the risk associated with fuel-powered appliances.
A 55-year-old restaurant manager died and more than two dozen others were taken to hospitals Saturday after being overcome by carbon monoxide at a restaurant at a Long Island, NY mall, police said.
At a Maine resort, 21 people suffered carbon monoxide poisoning and seven of them had to be hospitalized following an incident Sunday.
There is a way to guard against carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Allan Dover, Volunteer Fire Department coordinator for Lauderdale County.
Those at higher risk are people in buildings with natural gas and propane-fueled heating systems, gas stoves or gas water heaters, he said.
Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, which makes it nearly impossible to notice without a detector, he said. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, reddening of the cheeks, weakness, and nausea.
Dover said carbon monoxide detectors are the most effective way to guard against poisoning. They can be purchased for about $30 at area stores and are easily installed. Unlike smoke detectors, instructions direct that they be mounted not on the ceiling, but at seat level, because carbon monoxide is heavier than air.
If someone notices that their gas-burning appliance has a yellow flame, instead of the desired blue flame, they should be concerned.
"When we start looking for the source — a lot of times it can be a propane heater, or old water heaters," Dover said. "If they are showing any type of yellow flame, that's an indication of an incomplete flame."
As Lauderdale County Coroner, Clayton Cobler has seen deaths occur due to carbon monoxide poisoning, and remembered a tragedy in the late 1990s in which a father, his two sons and two stepsons, along with the family dog died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Just three years ago, Cobler said, a man in the Zero community died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Cobler even had a near miss himself.
"One night the carbon monoxide detector woke my wife and I up," Cobler said.
He just thought the battery needed changing, but about the same time, a detector that was stored in a file cabinet also started beeping. That's when they knew they were in danger, he said.
"We spent the night in a hotel room," he said.
They learned that there was a hole in the combustion chamber of their furnace.
Dover said the county will assist in installation or inspection of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Anyone living in Lauderdale County, outside the city of Meridian, who has a question about the detectors, can call Dover's office at 601-482-9852. Inside Meridian, call the Meridian Fire Department at 601-485-1871.
Additional symptoms of carbon monoxide and safety precautions can be found at the Mississippi Department of Health's website: www.msdh.state.ms.us.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.