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Summer Weather Can Lead to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Blog by MKG 6-7-2013

First we need to remember that on hot days we keep the air conditioner in cars, trucks and boats running and therefore we need engines to power them.  Anthony Perez and his fiancé both died while parked with the engine and air conditioner on. They were talking and planning their wedding in a ten year old car that was given to him by his mother.  This disaster is an example of the danger of carbon monoxide (CO) in warm weather but there are many more as shown by Cobb and Etzel (1, 2, and 4).   Today most people think about carbon monoxide caused deaths from the heater and the cold.  There is another side to the coin.  Be alert to the dangers of carbon monoxide in warm weather.  Another example is a case where two teenagers who were found naked, making love in the back of their vehicle with the engine running.  In another case, the engine on a house boat led to the death of a young boy swimming nearby the exhaust port in 2000 (10)  There have been 9 deaths and over 100 injuries from carbon monoxide over the past ten years on Lake Powell. Many of these accidents occurred during days when the temperature reached triple digits (10).

Lauren Thornton (10 years old) and her mother, Kelly Webster (36 years old), were both killed by carbon monoxide on a motor cruiser moored on Lake Windermere 

while on their holiday (4).  Marine accident investigators confirmed that carbon monoxide from engine exhaust of a portable generator on May 23, 2013 was the cause of death. (4). The CO alarm did not go off because it was not powered.  Battery backup should be the rule in all hardwired CO alarms. There was one survivor, Matthew Eteson, 39 year old, who owned the boat but he may be severely injured for life. (4).

Many fatal carbon monoxide motor vehicle incidents occur in northern states and during the colder months but many occur in the spring, summer and fall. (1-4).  The carbon monoxide in engine exhaust is the cause of most poisoning fatalities and many injuries in the United States (2-10) if you assume those whom die in fires are poisoned by smoke particles and CO as is often reported. Of the 11,547 un-intentional, non-fire related CO fatalities during 1979 to 1988, 57% were caused by engine exhaust.  Some of the CO deaths have occurred in closed structures with the garage door open and others in the open while parked (2). 

The lesson to be learned from all these tragedies is to buy carbon monoxide alarms for your recreational camping (RVs, boats, tents, and vans) as well as your car and garage.  An RV rated carbon monoxide alarm should be used for all applications except marine.  A marine CO alarm should be used for boating applications.

1. www.Anthonylight.org

2. Cobb N, Etzel RA. Unintentional Carbon Monoxide-Related Deaths in the United States, 1979 1988. JAMA 1991; 266:659 63.

3. Hampson NB, Norkool DM. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Children Riding in the Back of Pickup Trucks. JAMA 1992; 267:538 40.

4. The Guardian, Thursday 23 May 2013 UK

5. CDC. Carbon Monoxide Poisonings Associated with Snow-obstructed Vehicle Exhaust Systems -- Philadelphia and New York City, January 1996. MMWR 1996; 45:1 3.

6. RE Zumwalt, MD, Office of the Medical Investigator, New Mexico. M Cook Wake, MS, Injury Epidemiology; R Hoffman, MD, State Epidemiologist, Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment. RF Malesich, Lake County Coroner's Office, Leadville, Colorado. Surveillance and Programs Br, Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Br, Div. of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health, CDC.

7. Baron RC, Backer RC, Sopher IM. Unintentional Deaths from Carbon Monoxide in Motor Vehicle Exhaust: West Virginia. Am J Public Health 1989; 79:328 30.

8. Girman JR, Chang Y, Hayward SB, Liu K. Final Report: Causes of Unintentional Deaths from Carbon Monoxide Poisonings in California. Berkley, California: California Department of Health Services, California Indoor Air Quality Program, 1993.

9. Ilano AL, Raffin TA. Management of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Chest 1990; 97:165 9.

10. M. West and J. Slivka, Carbon Monoxide is Killer on Lake Powell, The Arizona Republic Nov. 29, 2000