The Oct. 3 deaths of two Elkin children apparently due to carbon monoxide poisoning has prompted North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent Carmen Long to encourage Surry County residents to defend themselves from the threat of this toxic gas.
According to Surry County Emergency Services Director John Shelton, Surry County Emergency Medical Services, the Elkin Rescue Squad, Elkin Fire Department and Elkin Police Department responded to a call at a house at 211 Elk Spur St. around 5:15 a.m. Oct. 3.
Two children, a 7-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, and two animals were found dead in the front left bedroom of the home. The children’s mother identified as Kathryn Gilliam was transported to Duke Hospital for apparent carbon monoxide poisoning and was later pronounced in critical but stable condition. Investigators believe a generator found hooked up to the refrigerator in the kitchen was responsible for the poisoning.
“Our motto should be inspect, detect and protect. Carbon monoxide is referred to as the invisible killer,” said Long. She recalled how when she was a child camping with her family in her grandfather’s camper, the gas nearly got them. Long explained that the camper was on the back of a truck.
“My mother began to suddenly get really sleepy and then got sick,” said Long. “She was more sensitive to carbon monoxide that the rest of us and that’s what saved us. We found out later it was due to a faulty exhaust pipe.”
Long said that carbon monoxide detectors range from $20 to more expensive depending to the features they offer. Detectors can be battery operated or plug in with a backup battery system.
“When you consider that a life is priceless, it’s worth investing a little bit,” said Long.
Information supplied by Long from the U.S. Fire Administration and the Department of Homeland Security describes carbon monoxide as an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of fuels that include coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas.
Figures supplied by the fire administration indicate unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning yearly claims more than 400 lives nationally and sends another 20,000 to hospital emergency rooms for treatment. The average cost of an emergency visit is $15,000, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers and power washers also produce the gas. Long said that improperly ventilated gas logs also could be a source for the toxic gas.
“Carbon monoxide decreases oxygen in the body,” explained Long. “Although there are a lot of factors involved such as the length of exposure and an individual’s physical makeup, children are at an increased risk when exposed to this gas.” Long added that people of all ages are at risk, including those with chronic heart disease, anemia or respiratory problems.
She explained that low to moderate exposure causes flu like symptoms, (but no fever) that include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. High levels of carbon monoxide poisoning will result in progressively severe symptoms such as confusion, vomiting and loss of muscular coordination and consciousness.
“Detectors will decrease the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning by 50 percent,” said Long. She said carbon monoxide alarms should be located near sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms.
“Check the batteries in these detectors monthly and replace them two times a year at least,” said Long. “Test them and be sure your family knows what to do if they go off. Have a plan.”
The U.S. Fire Administration’s brochure on carbon monoxide indicates that if no one is feeling ill when the detector goes off persons should silence the alarm and turn off all appliances and sources of combustion. The house should then be ventilated with fresh air by opening doors and windows and professionals should be called to investigate for the buildup of the gas.
Evacuate all occupants immediately if they feel ill, determine how many are ill and what their symptoms are and call a local emergency number or 911 for assistance.
Long said a camping stove or grill should never be used in the house, never line the bottom of a gas stove with aluminum foil or run a generator in a home and never leave a car running in a garage even with the garage door open.
“We just want people to just be aware,” added Long. “It takes a second to happen and a second to protect ourselves if we have a carbon monoxide detector to prevent tragedy.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.