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Press Briefing Transcripts


Thursday, October 26, 2006, 12:00 PM

MS. BURDEN: Good afternoon and welcome to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention media briefing. This afternoon, we′ll be coming to you to discuss some of the winter home heating hazards that are experienced by most Americans.

Today, the Director of the CDC′s National Center for Environmental Health, Dr. Howard Frumkin will be joined by Julie Vallese the Director of Information and Public Affairs of the Consumer product safety commission and Glenn Hourahan, the Vice President for Research and Technology Air Conditioning Contractors of America.

Dr. Frumkin will make his opening remarks, followed by Ms. Vallese and followed by Mr. Hourahan. Then, following their remarks, we will open things up on the floor as well as on the phone for questions. Dr. Frumkin.

DR. FRUMKIN: Thank you very much and welcome to all of our CDC visitors. I′m pleased to welcome you to a joint presentation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, highlighting a silent, insidious killer, and a silent public health issue: carbon monoxide poisoning.

Joining me today as you just heard are Julie Vallese, Director of Information and Public Affairs at the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Mr. Glenn Hourahan, Vice President of Research and Technology at the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. I′m pleased that we are demonstrating here both cross government collaboration and public private partnership in bringing this important issue to the attention of the public.

This weekend, we′re all looking forward to an extra hour of sleep when we set our clocks back. This annual ritual has become closely associated with a reminder from fire departments, from CDC′s injury center, and from the consumer product safety commission to change batteries in our smoke alarms, to ensure that families receive an early warning if a fire breaks out in the home. This year, we′re also asking families to change the batteries in their carbon monoxide detectors, an important part of the overall preventative approach to carbon monoxide poisoning.

CDC has an important stake in this issue. CDC works to keep our surroundings healthy and safe, especially our homes. Research shows that most injuries and many other adverse health outcomes occur at or close to home. Keeping our home safe is one way of improving and protecting the nation′s health. CDC has identified a need for agencies to work together across disciplines and across administrative boundaries at every level of government to gather data, conduct research and develop comprehensive programs to help protect healthy and safety at home. In that spirit, we′re delighted to be working with the consumer product safety commission to bring important information to the public′s attention.

Housing construction, housing systems, and housing conditions have a direct impact on health. We′re all familiar with mold. We′re all familiar with trip and fall hazards, but not enough of us are familiar with carbon monoxide. The more we understand about the relationship between our homes and our health, the better we can protect our most vulnerable citizens; children and older people, who spend the most time at home.

What about carbon monoxide. This gas is a silent and insidious killer. It′s colorless. It′s odorless. It′s poisonous. We lose almost 500 Americans every year to carbon monoxide inhalation, five times as many as we lose to West Nile virus. Non fatal carbon monoxide poisonings, the ones that don′t kill people but make them six, send an estimated 15,200 people to emergency departments every year.

To put this in context, the recent E. coli outbreak only sent 199 people to hospitals. These non fatal exposures to carbon monoxide can cause headaches, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, chest pain, confusion, and in some cases, long lasting neurologic damage.

More fatal and non fatal carbon monoxide poisonings occur in the fall and winter months than in any other time of the year. In December and January during the cold spells, two to three times as many people will die as the result of carbon monoxide poisoning as will die in June or July.

Faulty gas furnaces cause more carbon monoxide poisoning than any other source. But we need to remember that whenever you burn fuel, you may be creating carbon monoxide. And if the ventilation isn′t appropriate, you may be exposed to excessive levels of carbon monoxide. Not only gas furnaces need our attention, but gas burning appliances, gas or wood burning stoves, fireplaces, and generators, when they′re used in enclosed or semi enclosed spaces.

The good news is that these are preventable deaths, these are preventable injuries. There were three major strategies that we need to think about when dealing with carbon monoxide prevention, prevention and prevention. Being aware and taking simple steps can protect you, your family and your pets from carbon monoxide poisoning.

First, all homes should have a battery operated carbon monoxide detector. You should check or replace the detectors battery when changing your clocks each spring and fall. This year, that means installing or checking your detector, this Saturday October 28th.

Second, get your heating ventilating and air conditioning system serviced by a qualified technician. That technician should look not only at the furnace, but at water heaters and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances every year.

Systems and appliances that are not working properly are more likely to cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Next, generators, charcoal grills, camp stoves and other gasoline or charcoal burning devices should only be used outside the home. That doesn′t mean in the garage, it doesn′t mean in the basement, it means outside the building. Cars and trucks should only be run outside of attached garages. Vehicles left running inside a garage attached to the home can cause a build up of carbon monoxide even if the garage door is left open. Stoves and fireplaces should only be used when properly vented. Gas ovens should never be used to heat a home or an apartment.

If you delete(that you) or someone else has been poisoned by carbon monoxide, if someone is feeling dizzy, lightheaded or nausea after proximity to one of these sources of combustion, seek prompt medical attention. Thank you very much for coming today. And it′s a pleasure to step isert aside and invite Julie to the podium.

MS. VALLESE: Thanks, Dr. Frumkin. On behalf of acting chairman Nancy Nord (phcorrect), and commissioner Thomas Moore (phcorrect), the CPSC, myself would like to thank the CDC for hosting this telebriefing on this important health deleted (heating) message.

As you have heard from Dr. Frumkin carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas, that is a killer. As predictable as the seasons, and fall will turn to winter, we can predict that there will be carbon monoxide poisoning but they are preventable if you can take certain precautions.

The statistics that the CDC has provided are similar to the ones delete(to insert of the CPSC and the ones we collect each year. There is one difference deleted (is) we do not collect statistics for cars and carbon monoxide poisonings, or those outside the home in commercial areas.

Death from carbon monoxide poisonings do increase in the winter months, while - and that these steps that we can take are really pretty simple. Delete(CT) insert CDC and delete (or) the CPSC delete(remains) encourages consumers to change the batteries in their smoke detectors when they change their clock. This year, and moving forward, the CPSC is not only recommending consumers to change the clock and change their batteries but also to take the time to now install carbon monoxide alarms and to check batteries if you all ready have one.

Smoke alarms are a proven line of defense against home fire, injuries and death. Considering carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. A carbon monoxide alarm in your home is just as necessary and is truly a lifesaving device.

There should be a carbon monoxide alarm on each level of your home, and outside the bedrooms in all sleeping areas.

CDC′s nonfire related CO exposures are higher than the CPSC′s because we only collect data on those incidents that occur in the home and for the products that we regulate. In 2002, 188 people died of carbon monoxide poisoning from consumer products including home heating. One hundred three of those deaths were associated with home heating systems.

A home heating system is something that consumers don′t think about for eight or nine months out of the year. But when the weather turns cold, it is the first thing they turn to for comfort. Before the cold really sets in, all consumers should have their furnaces inspected by a trained professional. Make sure there are no leaks, no problems, and no carbon monoxide.

An additional concern for the CPSC during the winter months is the use of generators. In 2005, 64 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators. Generator use (insert) in the U.S. does go up in the winter months, when there are power outages from snow storms and ice storms.

Buffalo, New York, a city very accustomed to snow, was taken by surprise earlier this month by an early winter snowfall. There was widespread power outages and reports of carbon monoxide poisoning. In the week after the snow storm hit, CPSC became aware of at least three deaths and 230 emergency room cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. It is imperative for consumers to know the proper use of a generator.

According to the CDC, the most likely victim of a poisoning from a generator is a first time user. Never use a generator in doors, which means not in your home, not in your basement, not in the garage, even if the garage door is open, not in your shed, and not even on the porch.

The carbon monoxide produced by a running generator in an enclosed area is equivalent to the running of hundreds of cars in that same space. A generator should only be used in an area where all sides of the generator are exposed, well ventilated and far away from windows and doors.

Carbon monoxide is not the only threat during winter months. CPSC statistics show home heating equipment is one of the most common causes of residential structure fires. Fireplaces and chimneys are the number one source of home heating equipment fires. About 60 percent of the nearly 36,000 estimated home heating fires are from fire places or chimneys but it is portable heaters, including space heaters that claim the most lives.

From 1999 to 2003, 100 of the 240 estimated deaths each year were associated with portable heaters. Space heaters should be placed on level, hard and non flammable services, and at least three feet, from bedding, drapes, furniture and other flammable materials. Space heaters should never be left on when sleeping or when you leave the home.

Carbon monoxide poisonings and fires from home heating equipment are preventable having a professional inspection every year is the first line of defense in protecting families against carbon monoxide. Installing carbon monoxide detectors, carbon monoxide alarms, and smoke alarms is the second. Consumers need to know CO, consumers need to know fires, where they come from and how to protect against them.

And now, we will hear from Glenn Hourahan from ACCA.

MR. HOURAHAN: Thank you very much. ACCA is the trade association representing the manufacturers - I′m sorry - representing the contractors in the U.S. who install, service, and maintain heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. On behalf of them, I′m very pleased to be here to support the message coming both out of CDC and CPSC.

And also to reiterate, the requirements and the necessity to have your home heating systems inspected annually to ensure that they′re operating properly. Proper operation will ensure that carbon monoxide is not generating excess levels as well as to ensure that carbon monoxide that is generated within the combustion process is vented.

So reiterating the message that has all ready been spoken we strongly encourage that home owners engage the services of qualified contractors to have technicians come to their homes, to have their systems inspected, to make sure they′re operating properly, to make sure the venting systems are performing properly. To ensure that other equipment and systems that might be connected to a common vent are working properly. This might be water heaters. This might be clothes dryers that are connected to the same chimney vent as the furnace or the oil burner to ensure it′s properly sized with no leaks.

When having a contractor, a technician come to your home, there are certain things that this technician is doing and there are certain things that consumers should check ensure are being done. One of the most important things that a contractor will do is ensure that the heat exchange does not have any cracks in it. This will prevent carbon monoxide from being directly vented from the combustion process and released into the occupied space.

They are also going to be looking directly at the flue and the venting pipes to ensure that they are sound, no rust, no corrosion, no wholes and no evidence that they might soon be occurring. They will look at the burner assembly as well as the blower assembly to ensure that they are going to be - that the equipment can operate properly and that complete combustion will occur.

There are also a number of measurements and adjustments and cleaning that will be done within the various heating systems and ventilation systems to ensure that they will perform properly. While in the building, a qualified contractor will also look beyond just the equipment itself.

They′ll be looking for situations that could cause a very dangerous build up of carbon monoxide in a home or residence as a result of over pressurization or under pressurization, shutting the door to a bedroom can cause a pressurization problem in that room and under pressurize other parts of the house. This can cause what′s called flame rollouts. So the flame on your burner can roll out and cause incomplete combustion.

You can also have backdrafting, either down a chimney as well as down the vent flue from the combustion equipment itself, as a result of pressurization problems. So the contractor will be looking for these situations.

They′ll also be looking at how vents inside the house, whether it′s a kitchen vent, or a bathroom vent, whether when those are in operation, whether that also may cause undesirable depressurization of certain rooms of the house, which could cause carbon monoxide to come back down the chimney or down the vent and enter the occupied space.

And finally, it should be recognized that doing this on an annual basis is a good idea, because not only does it reduce carbon monoxide possibility of entering the home, at the same time, it leads to better equipment performance, and reduced fuel use, which is always good as well. Thank you.

And now I′d like to have our first speaker come back.

DR. FRUMKIN: Thanks, Glenn. Thanks, Julie. We′re open for questions now.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press star one. To withdraw your request, press star two. One moment for our first question.

DR. FRUMKIN: We′ve probably answered every question all ready.

OPERATOR: At this time, I′m showing no questions from the phone lines.

DR. FRUMKIN: Yes. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED media: ...doors can create a draft in your home. Are you telling people not to close doors in their bedrooms or in their house. I was just a little curious about that.

MR. HOURAHAN: No. Not that, do not close doors. What it is, is that the contractor should ensure that you - that when the doors are closed that you don′t cause a pressurization problem. A common thing - commonly now in homes built today and built in the last 15 to 20 years is to have air supplies in each and every room. And then you′ll have one central return and that might be in the hallway or some large common room. So you have one central return. So that all of the air being supplied to the building and to the individual rooms, all of that air has to go back to the central return.

If you shut a door the air being supplied to that one room with the door shut, it can′t easily get back to the central return. So that room becomes pressurized because you keep pushing more air in there that can′t escape. But the other parts of the house with the central return is seeing less air returned. That becomes an under pressurization in those rooms and that could cause a condition where you could back draft your chimney on the fireplace, or the vents that go with the combustion furnaces or appliances.

UNIDENTIFIED: Follow up question. How do you know that someone is certified? What kind of seal should they have? What kind of authorization should have? Is there a symbol we should be looking for?

DR. HOURAHAN: Yes, we strongly encourage that consumers and homeowners look for NATE, North American Technician Excellence, look for those who are certified by them as having technicians who pass a minimum skill set. And they are at

MS. BURDEN: We′d like to thank everyone for joining us this afternoon. If you have follow up questions you can contact CDC through 404-639-3286. Or the National Center for Environmental health web site. There is very excellent information on carbon monoxide exposures and poisoning all of this information and more is also available on the Consumer Product Safety Commission website alsoa. Thank you. And have a good afternoon.




  • Historical Document: October 26, 2006
  • Content source: Office of the Associate Director for Communication
  • Notice: Linking to a non-federal site does not constitute an endorsement by HHS, CDC or any of its employees of the sponsors or the information and products presented on the site.
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