Snow-Covered Air Vents To Blame for a Sudden Rise in Carbon Monoxide Poisonings

In Boston, a mother returned home around midnight on January 28th to find her husband and two children “incapacitated and sleepy” due to carbon monoxide buildup in the house. The father and two children all had to be hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning.

In Portland, Maine, a man woke around 7 a.m. on February 4th to find that he was too dizzy to stand, and was having trouble staying conscious. When emergency crews came to his house, according to the Portland Press Herald, they found the carbon monoxide levels in his bedroom to be about 1,000 ppm (parts per million) — only 35 ppm is required to set off a carbon monoxide detector (which he did not have).

And in Wisconsin, on February 2nd, an entire business warehouse in Wauwatosa had to be evacuated after the fire department responded to an alarm — which employees reportedly ignored at first, thinking that the warehouse couldn’t possibly fill up with enough carbon monoxide to make them sick.

The one connecting factor in all of these cases is that the carbon monoxide buildup was caused by snow drifts that had blocked exterior air vents. The first thing everyone wants to do when it starts snowing outside is to crank up the furnace as much as possible — but as many homeowners have discovered, furnaces and home heating systems do not get along well with piles of snow.

Even homeowners who live in cold regions where snow is common, like the Northeast and Midwest, find that they forget about how the weather might affect their HVAC systems. Most people are primarily concerned that freezing temperatures could cause furnaces and pipes to freeze up and stop working, but the possibility of a blocked air vent can be even more dangerous. As all three of the recent cases show, carbon monoxide poisoning happens very quickly and the victims usually aren’t even aware, since the gas is undetectable in taste, smell, and appearance.

“The flues have to be open to the house. Also when it gets colder, the furnace runs longer and people should make sure that their filters are changed on a regular basis and have it maintenanced at least once a year,” said Teri Boennighausen, office manager at Comfort Experts Inc.

they should just make sure that their filters are changed on a regular basis and have it maintenanced at least once a year when they’re running a long time and with the cold — have a humidifier.”

The first signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are a headache, nausea, and confusion. Health experts advise anyone who may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning to seek fresh air if possible, and to call 911 for immediate medical attention.

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