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Incident puts focus on carbon monoxide law
Updated On: Mar 28, 2010

Firefighters say the gas in the Augusta building emanated from a faulty propane furnace vent

By MEGHAN V. MALLOY, Kennebec Journal December 8, 2009

 

 

 

A state law requiring landlords to install carbon monoxide detectors in their properties is being taken seriously by housing associations, as people start heating their homes.

On Dec. 2, nine Augusta residents avoided poisoning when a newly installed detector went off in an apartment on the city's north side. The building was evacuated and tenants were checked for carbon monoxide absorption, but no one recorded a treatable level, fire officials said.

One resident, Elaine Beaulieu, said the detectors had been installed the same week as the incident. Her apartment is above the building's furnace room.

"I'm glad (the landlord) put the new ones in," Beaulieu said. "The furnace and venting system has been fixed, too."

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can cause death within minutes, depending on the exposure level.

The state law, which took effect Oct. 31, requires all rental properties to have carbon monoxide detectors as well as smoke detectors. The detectors must be powered by both electrical service and battery power.

A detector within 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom must be a photoelectric model, rather than the more familiar ionized model.

Landlords who do not comply will be penalized as much as $500, according to state law.

Firefighters believe the carbon monoxide originated in the building in Augusta with a faulty propane furnace vent.

State toxicologist Andrew Smith said, "You can almost count on November and December being the months where you see the upswing (in cases), and it will go into March or April."

Keeping heating systems and gas appliances maintained is the key to preventing carbon monoxide poisoning.

"Any combustion device will produce carbon monoxide, and poorly maintained ones will produce even more," Smith said. "If there's any problem with venting, the gas escapes into the home."

Smith said a significant number of cases are attributed to people working on vehicles or engines in closed spaces, and people trying to warm their homes or cook during power outages.

Some 100 to 200 people are sent to emergency rooms and one to five people are killed each year in Maine from carbon monoxide, Smith said.

Harold Booth, president of the Capital Area Housing Association, said the organization has mentioned the law at least twice in its monthly newsletter.

He said the 500-member group will meet today. An official from the state Fire Marshal's Office is expected to speak to rental property owners.


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