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Approaching winter brings higher chance of CO poisoning

December 2, 2010

As winter approaches and a furnace become a requirement in many people’s homes for providing heat, it is no wonder why December and January are the peak months for non-fire carbon monoxide incidents, according to a national non-profit organization, The Center for Campus Fire Safety.

Governments both at the state and national level are heeding the call to try and reduce the number of residential carbon monoxide poisoning.

In August, the House of Representatives passed the Residential Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act, and last February, Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill that will require carbon monoxide detectors in one-and-two family homes by Feb. 1, 2011.

The law will expand on the existing requirements for the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in all multi-family homes, hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and any other public building that is used for sleeping or lodging purposes.  One of the driving reasons for a more cohesive law was the fact that carbon monoxide’s affect on citizens at the state level.

“Wisconsin ranks 12th in the nation with respect [to] deaths and injuries from carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Sen. David Hansen, D-Green Bay. “Requiring these detectors will reduce the number of injuries and deaths, emergency calls and emergency visits.”

The bill was written with no fees or penalties for not complying with this law; however, the bill dictates whether or not a home can be sold.

“When a person goes to sell their house, carbon monoxide detectors will be included in the home inspection.  So in other words, for the home to be sold, they will have to have the detector installed,” Hansen said.

Property owners are responsible for putting the carbon monoxide detectors in, so people that rent can call on their landlords to have the detectors installed.  Instead of waiting until the law takes affect, tenants can request the detectors early.

“The landlords are going to have to do it anyway;  it’s going to be law,” said Director of Communications for the Wisconsin Builders Association, Annie Rubens.

Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer because the gas is colorless and odorless.  The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning depend on how long a person has been breathing as well as the potency of the gas.  Mild symptoms include headaches, fatigue and shortness of breath. More severe cases include loss of muscle control, brain damage and even death.

Carbon monoxide is still the leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately every nine minutes, a fire department in the U.S. responds to a residential carbon monoxide poisoning, according to CCFS.

Beth Bejcek, a former student at UW-River Falls, is a staunch supporter of carbon monoxide detectors.  Bejcek’s dad, stepmother and brother moved into an older home in St. Croix Falls two years ago.  Soon after moving in, they began to experience symptoms.

“They all started getting headaches, and my mom and brother went to the doctor,” Bejcek said. “The doctor gave them both a blood test, and the results showed carbon monoxide present in their blood.”

The culprit was the fuel-burning boiler in the basement, which had cracked and was releasing the carbon monoxoide. The building inspector and the heating company had inspected the home on several occasions but noticed nothing wrong with the boiler, Bejcek added.

Upon receiving the news, the Bejcek family immediately bought two detectors, one for each floor of their home.

Carbon monoxide detectors cost anywhere from $20 to $40.  The plug-in and battery operated detectors will be cheaper than the interconnected carbon monoxide detectors. Displaying the latest technology, the interconnected detectors are wireless and work in concert with a smoke alarm to alert of a fire or of carbon monoxide gas in the air.

Once the bill becomes law in February, Wisconsin will join 24 other states that also have laws requiring carbon monoxide detectors in residences.