This winter, like all before it, is sure to see thousands of New Yorkers suffering from colds, sore throats, and run-of-the-mill-but-always-inconvenient flu. While fatigue, headaches, and even nausea are miserable in and of themselves, with cold weather there also comes a greater chance that those unpleasant-but-bearable symptoms might be a sign of something much more serious—carbon monoxide poisoning.
According to the New York City Fire Department, approximately 500 Americans die every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning and approximately 5,000 are treated for exposure at area hospitals. Often called a “silent killer,” carbon monoxide fumes are undetectable by human senses—they are colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a naturally occurring gas, and CO fumes are present everywhere at harmless levels—but when the levels get too high in an enclosed space, carbon monoxide can be deadly.
You Are Not Safe
Last November, after a number of well-publicized cases of CO poisoning, Local Law 7 was passed, mandating that residential buildings in New York City install CO detectors in every dwelling unit. Despite the new law, many apartment owners are still of the impression that they are less at-risk than single-family homeowners because their apartments are less likely to include many of the typical leading causes of excess carbon monoxide, such as fireplaces, water heaters, or other fuel-burning amenities. This is far from the case. Carbon monoxide detectors are a necessary part of every household. John Drengenberg is the consumer affairs manager for Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in Northbrook, Illinois. Prior to the passage of Local Law 7, UL partnered with New York City to set standards for carbon monoxide detectors.
“I’ve had people ask me why they even needed one, since they live in an apartment with electric heat” says Drengenberg, “and yet right here in our area we had two people die over the weekend because somebody left their car running in the underground garage in the apartment building.”
According to Jennifer Givner, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), the city’s population density and the uniqueness of New Yorkers’ living situations because of crowding are two good reasons to be more—not less—aware and cautious of the threat of carbon monoxide.