What is colorless, odorless and extremely dangerous? The answer is carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that is also known as the silent killer. Carbon monoxide is produced by appliances that burn gas, wood, petroleum and other fuels. When carbon monoxide seeps out in an unventilated room, the outcome can be fatal. In Baltimore City, there have been more than 25 deaths from carbon monoxide since 2000.
Symptoms of mild carbon-monoxide poisoning include confusion, headaches, lightheadedness and dizziness and can be flu-like. Chronic exposure to this gas can cause depression and memory loss. More serious exposure can poison the central nervous system and the heart, and it can lead to death. The treatment for poisoning is oxygen therapy, which removes the poisonous gas from the blood.
Before the Jewish holidays, I received an email that reminded me that our community is susceptible to the problem of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
The email read: “This past Shabbos morning (the third day of the “three-day yom tov”) I was awakened by the sound of the carbon-monoxide alarm announcing high levels. We immediately cleared everyone out of the house and summoned the fire department. When they arrived, they informed me that the cause of the high carbon-monoxide levels was due to leaving the stove and oven on over yom tov and Shabbos. The buildup of these dangerous fumes was not due to a faulty gas line or leaking appliances, but rather to the lack of adequate ventilation. The constant burning of the gas range and oven, even on a low flame, will over time emit unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide. I was told that the fire department was tending to many such calls over the last few days. The firemen implored me to please tell the rabbis and announce to the community that if people need to leave on their stove or oven over the holidays, they must ensure that the area is properly ventilated. Turning on an exhaust fan or even opening the kitchen window a bit is enough to prevent terrible danger.”
The writer of the email was fortunate to have installed a carbon-monoxide meter. We all need to take that responsibility and install meters in our homes and in those of our family members. With the winter months coming our way, and with many families leaving their stoves on for the entire Shabbos, it is imperative that each family place carbon-monoxide detectors in their home.
The Baltimore City health and fire departments urge us to “make sure appliances are installed by professionals. Have chimneys and vents inspected annually. … Never use fuel-burning equipment inside a home, garage or vehicle. Never use gas-burning ovens to heat your home, and don’t operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room with closed doors or windows. …”
Carbon-monoxide alarms are easy to install, and they cost roughly $25. These simple devices do save lives. I have personally given easy-to-use plug-in detectors to some of my relatives. When we use our stoves or other fuel-burning appliances, we always remember to crack the windows. Please take a stand and be safe. Let’s all install carbon-monoxide alarms throughout our homes or apartments.
Frank Storch is an area philanthropist and freelancer writer.