It was only when his three-year-old daughter vomited and fainted that Nicholas Gerald suspected something was poisoning his family last December. He and his wife and two daughters lived in the basement of the seniors’ home they run near Quebec City.
“We couldn’t all be sick at the same time,” he told reporters. Sure enough, the cause was traced to carbon monoxide emissions from a new furnace. Fortunately the family recovered after a six-hour hospital visit and fumes never reached the floors above where the seniors live.
But the Geralds’ close call wasn’t the only one this winter. Four people in the Cheticamp area were taken to hospital last January after using generators to supply electrical power during a power outage.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of fatal poisonings in North America, says the Canada Safety Council. An estimated 414 Canadians died of carbon monoxide poisoning between 2000 and 2007.
Ontario has just passed legislation requiring carbon monoxide detectors in homes. The new law was a response to the deaths of a family of four in Woodstock, Ontario, who were overcome by the poison building up in their home as a result of a blocked chimney. The recent incident in Quebec sparked a call by fire officials for similar legislation in that province.
Carbon monoxide is odourless, tasteless and invisible. Symptoms of poisonings are few. They include flu-like symptoms, a sharp smell in the air and headaches. Symptoms subside when you leave the home. High levels in the air can cause mental confusion, dizziness, fainting, unconsciousness, brain damage and death. Seniors and children are among the most vulnerable.
Carbon monoxide is produced by any flame-fueled device including, ranges, ovens, clothes dryers, furnaces, fireplaces, grills, space heaters, water heaters and vehicles - especially vehicles running in underground garages.
Winter is a high-risk time for carbon monoxide poisoning as people are tempted to use power generators and flame-producing space heaters to compensate for power outages or cold weather.
Most detectors cost less than $50. Homes should have one per floor. Because the gas is lighter than air, detectors should be placed on ceilings.
Community Links is a provincial organization that promotes healthy, age-friendly communities and quality of life for Nova Scotia seniors through community development and volunteer action.