DennisBeaverJanuary 21, 2012 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

A new law recently went into effect in California where a staggering 90 percent of people reading this article are not in compliance and could be fined up to $200.

But the fine would be insignificant in terms of other consequences, which we will discuss in a moment. However, before going further, can you answer these questions?

1) What is the greatest cause of accidental poisoning death in America? It is directly responsible for over 17,000 emergency room visits annually in the United States, a contributing cause of death for approximately17,000 victims and, at a minimum, 500 deaths outright?

2) It has no taste or smell and cannot be seen. Yet, it can kill within 15 minutes and, if asleep, you wouldn’t see it coming.

Debbie Hanson, director of external affairs at First Alert, has known the answer only too well, having begun to study this health menace in 1993.

“It’s CO – carbon monoxide, a silent killer – that can have you unconscious and at death’s door within seconds. Sadly, few people understand just how deadly it is and that it can be found in virtually any home, condo or apartment,” she told us.

Present in most homes

“Whenever fuel is burned to generate heat, CO is always present. Take gas, for example, used in common home appliances such as a furnace, water heater, space heater, gas stove, gas range, barbecue, refrigerator, clothes dryer or gas-lit fireplace. Proper venting is so critical, and it is so important to have these appliances checked regularly to be sure that CO and other gases are being correctly vented out of the house,” Hanson notes.

“As all fuel-burning vehicles generate large amounts of CO, it is very dangerous to warm up your car in an attached garage, even with the garage door open, which lots of people do in the winter.”

Here’s why:

1) Back drafting: This occurs when air is pushed into the open garage from the outside, trapping the car’s exhaust inside. What if you are in the car, waiting for it to warm up, get a phone call, unaware of rising levels of carbon monoxide. As this gas is lighter than air – similar to helium – it rises, filling the space the vehicle is in, and then is drawn into the car. Sitting there long enough on the call, you could be poisoned by the carbon monoxide gas and die. It happens often.

2) Risk to people living In apartments and condos: If you live in an apartment or condo which has an enclosed parking structure underneath, there is an added risk when a car is allowed to idle. Carbon monoxide may rise and seep into nearly living areas. There have been many injuries and deaths precisely this way.

Hanson had yet another scenario that anyone who owns a car with keyless push-button ignition needs to keep in mind.

3) Cars with push-button keyless start: A start/stop button and ability to keep the key fob in your pocket or purse has created another reason to be vigilant. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is increasingly concerned with the number of people parking in their garages, forgetting to shut the engine off, and then walking away.

“Either they forget to push “stop,” or think the car will turn itself off automatically when it does not sense the key fob nearby. But at present, most smart key systems allow the engine to run even when the fob is removed from the car and out of range, leading to several deaths,” Hanson observes.

Carbon monoxide poisoning – The Great Imitator

“CO poisoning is called The Great Imitator by the medical profession, because early symptoms are very similar to the flu, with headaches, nausea, general feeling that something is not right, but you don’t know what it is. Some people report feeling the need to get out of the house, but didn’t, as their judgment was deeply impaired.

“Emergency room doctors tell us that it is one of the most difficult things to diagnose. The gas attaches itself to your hemoglobin – oxygen-carrying red blood cells – and slowly suffocates you from the inside out, or causes a variety of serious and long-lasting injuries.”

No detector? Play with the cuddly koala bears

California law now requires both a smoke and a carbon monoxide alarm in every home. By 2013, condos and apartment houses must have them as well.

But what happens if you don’t have one and if that sleepover for your kids and their friends turns deadly? Will homeowners insurance protect you, or will they say, “violating the law = no coverage,” as can happen in Australia?

Next week, we’ll look into that question and also have buying suggestions and specific advice on where to mount both your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.