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Carbon monoxide close call leaves couple thankful PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Lee   
Tuesday, 27 March 2012 20:09

“I guess it’s not our time.” “God’s not finished with us yet.”

The plants in the house were dying, they were waking up with no energy, they had headaches and no motivation. What’s going on?

Gordon and Beth Penfold of Holyoke had been living in a home filled with carbon monoxide for ... well, they don’t know how long.

The couple spent the majority of the first three months of this year not feeling right. Gordon and Beth both said they were without energy and were experiencing on-again and off-again headaches. They thought they needed to buy a new bed.

They had each had the flu before Christmas. A houseful of family over the Christmas holiday brought some sniffles and colds, so the Penfolds thought maybe they were seeing the effects from lingering germs.

One day in January, the leaves of a plant on the dining room table just fell off. “I was looking for bugs,” Beth said, not knowing why her plants were all dying.

“We were tired,” Gordon said. “There was no gas in the tank to get us going.” They both seemed to be dragging the minute they woke up each day. Beth said it even took forever to clean the house.

Gordon said there were a select few times when he thought he could smell fumes, even though carbon monoxide is odorless. After repeated checks of the furnace, Gordon gave up and called Sullivan’s Appliance Thursday, March 15. They suggested he purchase a carbon monoxide detector. When he got home later that day, Gordon plugged the detector in. The instructions said it would take about an hour for it to begin working.

Within 10 minutes, the detector began chirping. Gordon immediately called the gas company which warned the couple to leave the house.

Upon arrival, the gas employee’s sensor immediately went off. Before leaving the house, the Penfolds had opened the windows. When the level was checked, the home registered around 50-60 parts per million (ppm) upstairs and 185 ppm downstairs.


Following a close call with a house full of carbon
monoxide, Gordon and Beth Penfold encourage
those who don’t own a detector to think otherwise.  
—Enterprise photo

The Penfolds were told they could have a maximum exposure of 50 minutes at the levels inside the house. “Well, we’ve been living in the house,” Gordon questioned.

The culprit in the Penfolds’ home turned out to not be the furnace but the 20-year-old hot water heater.

The hot water line running to the water heater had a little tiny leak in it. Water began to drip on to the top of the water heater which caused it to rust.

Gordon said there was a little pressure on the vent pipe and when the top rusted, the pipe shifted just enough to let fumes run into the house.

Gordon said the room isn’t lit very well which is probably why he never even noticed the rusting top.

“It’s a silent killer,” Gordon said. “We had no idea.”

The couple has one piece of advice. “Get a detector. Get more than one,” Beth said.

Beth said she was recently with a group of friends and out of the four of them, only one person had a carbon monoxide detector.

After replacing the hot water heater and airing out the house, the couple is waking up feeling better. A simple $30 purchase probably saved their lives on that Thursday.

Carbon monoxide (CO), also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers and power washers also produce CO.

It can be toxic to humans and animals when encountered in higher concentrations, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal biological functions.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common type of fatal air poisoning in many countries. It combines with hemoglobin to produce carboxyhemoglobin, which is ineffective for delivering oxygen to bodily tissues.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may resemble other types of poisonings and infections including symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue and a feeling of weakness. Affected families often believe they are victims of food poisoning. Infants may be irritable and feed poorly. Neurological signs include confusion, disorientation, visual disturbance, syncope and seizures.

The Penfolds said they had the signs of medium exposure. Their symptoms included headache, drowsiness, confusion and increased heart rate.

The health effects of CO depend on the CO concentration and length of exposure, as well as each individual’s health condition. Most people will not experience any symptoms from prolonged exposure to CO levels of approximately 1-70 ppm, but some heart patients might experience an increase in chest pain.

As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms become more noticeable and can include headache, fatigue and nausea. At sustained CO concentrations above 150-200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness and death are possible.

A few years ago, a law was passed that any rental or any home sold in Colorado has to have a working carbon monoxide detector within 15 feet of every bedroom. This law came after entire families died as a result of carbon monoxide in the home.



Holyoke Enterprise March 29, 2012