Virginia Mason Hospital study: Carbon monoxide can pass through dry wall

21 Aug

Carbon monoxide poisoning can kill. Marijke Vroomen Durning wrote in the Forbes article, Carbon Monoxide, A Silent Killer: Are You Safe At Home?

Every year, 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States are sickened by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning and approximately 500 people die, many in their own home. Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It cannot be detected by humans without the help of a detector.
A new study, released today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has found that carbon monoxide easily passes through gypsum wallboards (also called drywall), the material used to finish walls and ceilings in most residential homes. The porous material does nothing to stop the gas from seeping through.
Here’s where the problem gets worse: Twenty-five states require that residents have a carbon monoxide alarm in their homes but in December 2012, 10 states exempted residences that don’t have an internal carbon monoxide-producing source, such as a gas stove or fireplace, or an attached garage in which a car could be left idling. This move worries toxicologists who fear that these exemptions may give people a false sense of security. It’s believed that removing the requirement for all homes to have such alarms will lead to an increased number of accidental carbon monoxide poisonings, particularly in multi-unit buildings.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/marijkevroomendurning/2013/08/20/carbon-monoxide-a-silent-killer-are-you-safe/

Here is the press release from Virginia Mason Hospital:

News Releases
Researchers Prove Carbon Monoxide Penetrates Gypsum Wallboard
SEATTLE – (Aug. 21, 2013) — Carbon monoxide (CO) from external sources can easily penetrate gypsum wallboard (drywall) commonly used in apartments and houses, potentially exposing people indoors to the toxic, odorless, tasteless gas within minutes, concludes a study conducted at Virginia Mason Medical Center.
These findings, which underscore the importance of CO alarms in single-family and multi-family homes, are published in today’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Authors of the study are Neil B. Hampson, MD; James R. Holm, MD; and engineer Todd G. Courtney, of the Virginia Mason Center for Hyperbaric Medicine.
Their research casts doubt on the assumption that the risk for CO poisoning inside a residence is eliminated if there is no apparent internal source of the gas. They determined that carbon monoxide from an external source, such as an electrical generator operating in an adjacent apartment or an automobile engine running in an attached garage, can pass through drywall ceilings and walls because gypsum wallboard is highly porous. CO also penetrates painted drywall, albeit more slowly, the researchers determined.
Their study is believed to be the first to examine the ability of carbon monoxide to diffuse through gypsum wallboard. Gypsum particles contain microscopic pores that are many times larger than CO molecules, allowing these dangerous molecules to easily penetrate drywall.
“There are numerous media reports describing simultaneous CO poisonings in different units of multifamily dwellings,” the authors note. Even though carbon monoxide might have traveled through ventilation ducts, hallways, elevator shafts or stairways in some cases, this was not possible in every case due to configurations of the buildings, they add. This raised the question whether CO could pass through drywall.
Many states are enacting legislation mandating residential CO alarms, although some have exempted structures if there is no apparent indoor carbon monoxide source (i.e., fuel-burning appliances, fireplaces, etc.). This action is dangerous, authors of the study caution, because occupants of multifamily dwellings, for example, can bring sources of CO production into their units and put themselves and people in neighboring units in harm’s way.
Since January 2013, Washington state law has required carbon monoxide alarms be installed in most existing single-family homes, as well as hotels, motels and apartments. The alarms must be located outside, and near, each separate sleeping area.
Carbon monoxide poisoning causes about 500 accidental deaths annually in the U.S.
About Virginia Mason Medical Center
Virginia Mason Medical Center, founded in 1920, is a nonprofit regional health care system in Seattle that serves the Pacific Northwest. Virginia Mason employs more than 5,300 people and includes a 336-bed acute-care hospital; a primary and specialty care group practice of more than 460 physicians; satellite locations throughout the Puget Sound area; and Bailey-Boushay House, the first skilled-nursing and outpatient chronic care management program in the U.S. designed and built specifically to meet the needs of people with HIV/AIDS. Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason is internationally recognized for its breakthrough autoimmune disease research. Virginia Mason was the first health system to apply lean manufacturing principles to health care delivery to eliminate waste and improve quality and patient safety.
To learn more about Virginia Mason Medical Center, please visit Facebook.com/VMcares or follow @VirginiaMason on Twitter. To learn how Virginia Mason is transforming health care and to join the conversation, visit our blog at VirginiaMasonBlog.org.
Media Contact:
Gale Robinette
Virginia Mason Media Relations
(206) 341-1509
gale.robinette@vmmc.org

See:

Drywall No Barrier Against CO Poisoning http://www.medpagetoday.com/PublicHealthPolicy/EnvironmentalHealth/41091

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted information about Carbon Monoxide Poisoning:
Frequently Asked Questions

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death.
Where is CO found?
CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned by breathing it.
What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.
How does CO poisoning work?
Red blood cells pick up CO quicker than they pick up oxygen. If there is a lot of CO in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with CO. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death. CO can also combine with proteins in tissues, destroying the tissues and causing injury and death.

Who is at risk from CO poisoning?

All people and animals are at risk for CO poisoning. Certain groups — unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems — are more susceptible to its effects. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to CO poisoning. Fatality is highest among Americans 65 and older.
How can I prevent CO poisoning from my home appliances?
• Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
• Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters (catalytic) indoors. Although these heaters don’t have a flame, they burn gas and can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.
• If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator’s cooling unit have an expert service it. An odor from the cooling unit of your gas refrigerator can mean you have a defect in the cooling unit. It could also be giving off CO.
• When purchasing gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as the CSA Group .
• Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.

How do I vent my gas appliances properly?

• All gas appliances must be vented so that CO will not build up in your home, cabin, or camper.
• Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
• Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause CO to build up inside your home or cabin.
• Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum, or something else. This kind of patch can make CO build up in your home, cabin, or camper.
• Horizontal vent pipes to fuel appliances should not be perfectly level. Indoor vent pipes should go up slightly as they go toward outdoors. This helps prevent CO or other gases from leaking if the joints or pipes aren’t fitted tightly.

How can I heat my house safely or cook when the power is out?

• Never use a gas range or oven for heating. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a build up of CO inside your home, cabin, or camper.
• Never use a charcoal grill or a barbecue grill indoors. Using a grill indoors will cause a build up of CO inside your home, cabin, or camper unless you use it inside a vented fireplace.
• Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal — red, gray, black, or white — gives off CO.
• Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors. Using a gas camp stove indoors can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.
• Never use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window, door, or vent.
How can I avoid CO poisoning from my vehicle?
• Have a mechanic check the exhaust system of my car every year. A small leak in your car’s exhaust system can lead to a build up of CO inside the car.
• Never run a car or truck in the garage with the garage door shut. CO can build up quickly while your car or truck is running in a closed garage. Never run your car or truck inside a garage that is attached to a house and always open the door to any garage to let in fresh air when running a car or truck inside the garage.
• If you drive a vehicle with a tailgate, when you open the tailgate, you also need to open vents or windows to make sure air is moving through your car. If only the tailgate is open CO from the exhaust will be pulled into the car.
http://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm

It is more important than ever for those living in multi-unit homes to have carbon monoxide detectors in each unit.

Consumer Search offers tips about buying a carbon monoxide monitor in How to Buy a Carbon Monoxide Detector:

What the best carbon monoxide detector has
• Audio alarm. Devices certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) have a minimum 85-decibel horn that can be heard within 10 feet.
• Interconnectivity. Interconnecting units are helpful in large homes because they communicate with one another; when one alarm detects a hazard, it triggers them all to sound an alarm. To work properly, all units must be made by the same manufacturer. While traditionally hardwired, battery-operated wireless interconnecting units are now available.
• Five-year sensor lifespan. The sensors on carbon monoxide detectors do wear away over time. Expect your unit to last at least five years. The better models have an end-of-life timer to alert you when the unit needs to be replaced. Kidde’s newest CO detectors, released in March, last for 10 years.
• Long warranty. Carbon monoxide detectors can malfunction, and the best units come with a warranty of at least five to seven years.
• Digital display. UL-certified carbon monoxide detectors are designed to sound an alarm if they sense CO levels of 70 parts per million (ppm) or higher. Exposure of 100 ppm for 20 minutes may not affect healthy adults. However, people with cardiac or respiratory problems, infants, pregnant women and the elderly may be harmed by lower concentrations. A device with a digital display can show these concentrations and give you the peace of mind.
• Testing functionality. CO detectors should be tested once a month. The best detectors have a test/silence button to test the device and also silence the alarm in the event of a false alarm.
Know before you go
What are the regulations in your state or municipality? Most states require a carbon monoxide detector to be installed in new homes or before the sale of a home. Some require hardwired or plug-in units to have battery backup in the case of a power outage. The National Conference of State Legislatures is a good resource for determining what regulations apply to you.
How are your current carbon monoxide detectors installed? Detectors may be hardwired, plugged into an outlet or battery operated, depending on the model. Some plug-in and hardwired units use batteries as a backup during a power failure and will not operate if they are not installed. If your current carbon monoxide detectors are hardwired, you will most likely want to keep that system. Otherwise, battery-operated and plug-in models are the easiest to install.
Do you need a smoke alarm, too? If you also need a smoke alarm, a combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm might be best. Decide whether you need the smoke alarm to use ionization or photoelectric technology. The U.S. Fire Administration provides background on the different technologies.
How many alarms do you need? CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, according to the National Fire Protection Association, which also recommends interconnecting all alarms.
Does your unit meet safety standards? Check to see that the detector is certified by an independent testing agency such as Underwriters Laboratories or Canadian Standards Association.
http://www.consumersearch.com/carbon-monoxide-detectors/how-to-buy-a-carbon-monoxide-detector

The Virginia Mason study shows how important carbon monoxide detectors are.

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