Dr. Jay L. Bishop, a scientist and Bountiful resident, said building codes usually require that sources of breathing air be at least 12 feet from furnace exhaust vents, but hundreds of homes throughout Utah and thousands nationwide leave only three feet from furnace exhausts.
Bishop warns that often smoke, fire and CO alarms, while available in many brands, will not signal an alarm until the danger is far too late for the building’s occupants to have an opportunity to escape.
He said in the case of a CO alarm, it is most helpful to have a digital readout of the actual CO concentration, and for the monitor to be placed where that concentration can be read every time someone passes by. Such a location, he said, might be at eye level in the hallway leading to the bedrooms.
Bishop said such a monitor should be set to alarm if 50-100 parts per million is sustained for 30 seconds, not 440 ppm held for 15 minutes, as one of the most well known brands does.
The homes most often affected are factory-built (federal Housing and Urban Development) homes, Bishop said, often used for victims of natural disasters or other emergencies.
But they are often also used by some industries, churches and other organizations as field offices or temporary quarters. “Nearly all manufacturers of such modular homes copy the faulty design of HUD... causing occupants to breathe high levels of poisonous carbon monoxide,” he warned.
And some mobile homes have the same problem.
Federal law requires breathing air to have no more than 50 ppm in a workplace, and for longer hours on the job, the 10-hour weighted average allows only 38 ppm.
Bishop first became aware of the problem about five years ago, when a Bountiful family, in a home which wasn’t built by HUD, suffered the death of their youngest child because of CO poisoning, which was later tested at more than 200 ppm.
At the time, Bishop said the state rejected the test’s findings.
Those suffering CO poisoning will have flu-like symptoms — headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath, according to the United States Consumer Safety Commission.
“High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including: mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and untimely death,” according to the CSC’s website.
They report that on average about 170 Americans die yearly from CO produced by nonautomotive sources, which includes not only furnaces, but also stoves, water heaters and room heaters.
Bishop believes many people who think they have the flu are actually suffering the effects of CO poisoning.
He said those who are suffering flu-like symptoms should “flush the air out of their house as fast as they can.”
He said those living in homes with air vents only 3-5 feet from furnace exhaust can temporarily remedy the situation, by removing the cap from the intake air vent and tieing a plastic bag or taping a plastic lid over it; opening a window 1/2 inch on the side of the house opposite the exhausts to let the fresh air in.
Then, a permanent remedy is to reroute the air intake from a source at least 12 feet from the exhausts. Bishop said this is easily accomplished and most people can do it with the help of a friend.
He said if the rerouted source is on the roof, it should be no higher than the rising warm air exhausts.
The danger, Bishop said, is even higher if snow covers the vents. Then a cavity forms beneath the snow and all the furnace or water heater exhaust goes into the breathing intake port.
Bishop would also like state governments nationwide to require all such unsafe homes in the state be corrected by the owners.
He’d also like state regulators to ask CO alarm manufacturers to provide a model for $15 or less which will set off an alarm if 50 ppm is sustained for 30 seconds. This will also allow the owner to set the alarm at a preferred ppm level.
More information is available at deadlyfumes.us.