By Melanie Williams
Carbon monoxide, often referred to as the quiet killer, made its often fatal presence known loud and clear after last year’s rare October snow storm and Tropical Storm Irene with a disproportionate effect on the Latino population, who apparently is not well informed about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
According to the state Department of Public Health, Connecticut saw one of the largest outbreaks of carbon monoxide (CO) poisonings in the nation after these extreme weather conditions. There were a total of 143 reports of CO, including five deaths: approximately 25 percent of the cases were Latino.
“Every winter in Connecticut, hundreds of residents are taken to the emergency department and some are hospitalized and even die due to CO poisoning resulting from malfunctioning furnaces, improperly placed portable generators and indoor use of charcoal grills,” stated DPH Epidemiologist Brian Toal.
Studies show the Latino Community ranked below Non-Latino/Whites in not being aware of the warnings. After the storm, a survey was conducted polling each household of those affected by CO, questioning if they heard the warnings, on the news or in print media, of CO in previous years; 48 percent White/Non-Latino and 27 percent Latinos advised they did. An additional survey asked if they heard the warnings of CO just before or after the storm, 38 percent White/Non-Latino did while only 9 percent of Latinos stated they did.
In lieu of these results, the DPH has continued preventive methods to keep the public informed of the hazardous effect of CO as well as the necessary steps to take to decrease the likelihood of being impacted by this gas. The DPH website offers fact sheets, door hangers to be strategically placed around the community, and tips available in Spanish. In addition, press releases are distributed to local media outlets, including newspapers specifically for the Latino community.
The DPH suggests several tips to prevent CO poisoning:
- Install a carbon monoxide detector near sleeping areas. Install new batteries at least once a year and replace detectors every five years as the sensors degrade.
- Have your heating systems, chimney flues, gas appliances and generators checked every year, and cleaned and serviced as needed by qualified heating/appliance contractors.
- Never use portable generators, pressure washer engines, or other gasoline-powered equipment (including tools) inside your home, garage, carport, basement or other enclosed spaces. Be sure to place portable generators at least 20 feet from your home.
- Use gasoline-powered equipment outside and away from doors, windows or air intake vents.
- Opening windows and doors, and operating fans is not sufficient to prevent buildup of CO in a home.
According to the Department of Public Health, there are no programs currently for free or reduced-price carbon monoxide detectors.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and deadly gas produced by the incomplete burning of fossil fuels. For more information, you can view the CT DPH website, www.ct.gov/dph/co or call 860-509-7742.