In this issue
Give the gift of life -- a carbon monoxide alarm
Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms, given as gifts to Marcia Laugerman's family of Des Moines and to Marlene Ziesman of Eldora, saved their lives when the furnaces in their homes malfunctioned.
"CO alarms detect the presence of carbon monoxide, a deadly, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas produced whenever a fuel, such as natural gas, LP gas, gasoline, wood or charcoal does not burn completely," said Thomas Greiner, Iowa State University Extension agricultural engineer. "CO can be produced by faulty furnaces, water heaters, stoves -- any fuel-burning appliance."
Carbon monoxide reduces the supply of oxygen to the brain. Exposure causes headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, memory loss, personality change, permanent brain damage, heart problems and at high concentrations, death. Children and people with respiratory problems are more severely affected, said Greiner.
One morning in September 1995, Laugerman, her husband, David, and their two sons became disoriented and developed headaches, dizziness and nausea. Laugerman then remembered her CO detector. Despite their increasing symptoms, the Laugermans managed to locate and assemble the detector. It sounded after just five minutes, indicating a dangerously high CO concentration.
The family ended up in the hospital. The family experienced no lingering health effects but had to replace the relatively new furnace and gas water heater in their home, which was built in 1989.
"We were new homeowners, and we had not had our furnace serviced," said Laugerman. "I would advise people to have their furnaces serviced every fall, and of course, to buy a CO alarm."
Marlene Ziesman's detector began sounding in her 100-plus-year-old Eldora farmhouse in October 1995. Ziesman checked with heating contractors, her liquid propane suppler, two local fire departments and the hardware store that sold her the detector, but none of them had equipment to measure CO in her home.
Later Ziesman saw a brochure about a Des Moines carbon monoxide workshop that listed ISU Extension's Greiner as a speaker. She called Greiner, who visited her house in January 1996 and measured high levels of CO generated by an older furnace.
"My advice is that if your CO alarm goes off, don't give
up until you find someone with the equipment to find out
what's wrong," said Ziesman. "Everyone needs an alarm."