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Preventing Accidental Carbon Monoxide Deaths

Young girl looking out of window

What is the problem?

Accidental poisoning from carbon monoxide (CO) causes about five hundred deaths in the U.S. each year. In Washington, about 53 people go to the hospital for symptoms of CO poisoning every year. Many acute CO poisonings are from exposure to CO from fuel burning appliances, portable generators, or charcoal burners brought inside the home. A study of a CO poisoning outbreak in King County, during power outages in 2006, showed that 70% of people had been exposed to toxic levels of CO from generators or charcoal burners brought inside. In response to new state legislation, the Washington Building Code Council wrote draft rules in 2009 requiring the placement of CO alarms in homes. However, the draft rules applied only to homes with fuel-fired appliances or those with attached garages. As a result, many residents were still at a high risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

What did Tracking do?

Washington Tracking Network scientists led an agency-wide Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Planning Workgroup. This workgroup coordinated Washington Department of Health actions with the work of the Washington Building Code Council. Washington Tracking Network staff provided data from their network to decision makers for these new rules. These data described not only Washington's burden of preventable deaths and sickness due to CO poisoning, but also the risks – such as indoor use of generators – that cause a large number of CO poisonings. This information helped policy-makers recognize the need to extend the building code rules to more types of homes.

Improved public health

The Washington Building Code Council approved a measure to extend the rule to many types of homes. Other organizations and health advocates successfully lobbied the state legislature for the CO poisoning prevention issue and creating more awareness about the new rules. The Washington Department of Health and Washington Tracking Network provided the facts needed to help craft the rule's language. The Washington Building Code Council now requires all residential buildings in Washington to have carbon monoxide alarms by 2013. The new, stricter rules provide greater protection of public's health.


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