Don’t let the economy KILL you! According to public health and safety officials, one of the season’s common killers is worse than ever this year - carbon monoxide poisoning. That’s because a record number of people are unemployed and unable to keep up with their utility bills. So, their heat gets shut off. Pair that with the extreme weather conditions we’ve been having, and you get desperate families turning to dangerous sources to help heat their homes. Dr. Eric J. Lavonas, a director with the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, anticipates a big bump in carbon monoxide poisonings this winter, unfortunately. People without power are firing up gas-powered generators and bringing barbecue grills indoors, forgetting the deadly consequences of the colorless, odorless, tasteless gas.
Carbon monoxide poisoning sends 20,000 people to the emergency room each year, and kills nearly 500. This past November, a mother and two teens in Paramount, California were overcome by the gas when they used a charcoal grill to heat their home. In Minneapolis, two men and a 13-year-old boy died of carbon monoxide poisoning in October. They’d used a gas generator in a basement after the power was cut off.
So, why is the gas so dangerous? Dr. David Dabell, a physician at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, says that carbon monoxide harms people by blocking oxygen from getting into the blood. The gas molecules bind more quickly than oxygen to a protein in red blood cells, and in turn smother vital organs - such as the heart and brain. In mild cases, victims might suffer flu-like symptoms of headache, dizziness and nausea, but the poisoning can quickly lead to unconsciousness, neurological problems, coma, heart and breathing failure — and death.
In most states, customers who can’t pay their power bills are protected from shutoffs under certain circumstances, such as severe weather conditions or disability. However, the rules can be complicated, and most states frown on repeat non-payers. If you’re having trouble paying your utility bill, you may be able to avoid a shutoff by applying for emergency assistance through social services. Whatever you do, DON’T resort to these dangerous methods, and no matter what your situation, invest in a carbon monoxide detector. They’re inexpensive, and can literally save your life.