The Silent Killer Clearing the Air About Carbon Monoxide

With all the recent concern over environmental hazards in residential buildings - mold, funguses, and various allergens - it makes good sense to discuss one of the most dangerous of the invisible problems that can plague a home or building: carbon monoxide, or - to use the chemical abbreviation - CO.

Carbon monoxide, which is invisible and odorless, can accumulate slowly or very rapidly, causing building residents to sicken - or worse. Carbon monoxide originates from the incomplete burning of such materials as gasoline, natural gas, kerosene, liquid petroleum, oil, charcoal, coal, wood, and tobacco. The gas prevents the body from using oxygen efficiently and eventually can cause asphyxiation. Prolonged CO exposure results in headache, loss of alertness, and such flu-like symptoms as nausea, fatigue, fast breathing, confusion, disorientation, and overall weakness. In addition, it can cause chest pain in people with heart disease. The longer a person breathes CO, the worse its effects become. It is estimated that around 200 people die each year from CO exposure.

Poorly ventilated and maintained buildings, as well as the close proximity of certain residential areas to major highways and tunnels, pose an increasing threat of CO infiltration. Buildings must be able to "breathe" and ventilate properly. Building managers should perform diligent maintenance on the equipment necessary for that to happen. However, if one does encounter a CO buildup, the problem is relatively simple to remediate, even prevent, unlike such airborne pollutants and allergens as molds and funguses.

Statewide Legislation Takes Effect

Legislative measures to regulate the detection of carbon monoxide have been introduced in years past and continue to be proposed. In August 2002, the City Council proposed Intro 251, a local law that would amend the administrative code to require installation of carbon monoxide detection devices in certain multiple family residential dwellings. The bill was referred to the Committee on Housing and Buildings but no action has yet been taken, according to a council spokesman.

On the state level, the Assembly took action last year and Governor George Pataki signed legislation in July 2002 requiring that CO detectors be installed in all new residential construction and in all single-family homes, co-ops and condominiums sold in New York State after March 6. This bill does not apply however to the five boroughs of New York City. The city council's bill, if enacted, would affect New York City dwellings, according to Attorney Albert Pennisi, a senior partner with Pennisi, Daniels and Norelli.


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  • All lower floors in our co-op in Cedarhurst are being poisoned by gasoline exhaust fumes, sickening all tenants in the lower floors, endangering the Youngers and seniors in the building, and, exacerbating pre-existing conditions. In addition, the landscaping equipment in the adjacent building is also adding tremendously to the destruction of our health and the legal destruction of our habitability and nuisance problems causes by the unfeeling and un-responsive Board members and management. We're at our wit's end. Should I send out a petition for a cease and desist? We're desperate.