Carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected in the deaths of a 39-year-old man and his 11-year-old daughter who were found in an RV being used as a home by a family just north of Duluth, Minnesota.
Two other siblings in the RV, a 14-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl, also fell ill and were taken by ambulance last week to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth and then transferred to Hennepin County Medical Center for further treatment, Star Tribune reported.
It was one of the children inside the RV who called their grandfather to report “there was a problem inside with the generator,” Sheriff Lt. Jason Lukovsky told Star Tribune.
“Readings were taken, and there were high levels” of carbon monoxide, when emergency responders arrived on the scene, the lieutenant added.
Responders found a generator near the camper, and it was not operating when deputies showed up, Lukovsky said.
On a cool Wednesday in March this year, a couple was enjoying their RV at a campground in Nashville. Their bodies were discovered by family members who traveled to Nashville to check on the couple after they were unable to reach them for several days.
One of the propane-gas stove burners had been left on accidentally, police said, filling the air with carbon monoxide. The RV had a carbon monoxide detector, but, it had no batteries.
Unfortunately, these is not isolated incidents.
Every year on average, carbon monoxide poisoning claims over 400 lives and causes 20,000 visits to hospital emergency departments.
Carbon monoxide is produced when you burn any one of various fuels, including wood, charcoal, kerosene, stove oil, and propane. Camping stoves and grills are sources. So are internal combustion engines, like those in generators.
Carbon monoxide is harmful when breathed because it replaces oxygen in the blood and literally deprives our heart, brain, and other organs of oxygen. Without oxygen, cells throughout the body die, and the organs stop working.
One of the things that makes carbon monoxide so dangerous is it has no odor or color. You can’t see, smell, or taste carbon monoxide. But if you breathe too much of it, it can become deadly within minutes.
Your only clues that you’re being poisoned may be general symptoms easily attributed to another problem. Or, if you’re asleep or intoxicated, you may not detect the poisoning at all.
So it’s important to prevent carbon monoxide from becoming an issue in the first place. Fortunately, there are good ways to do that:
Use portable generators outside only. Place far away from windows, doors, and vents. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 20 feet.) Point the exhaust away from your RV, tent, or house.
Never use a stove or grill to heat your RV. Even a warm, unlit grill is dangerous; warm coals continue producing carbon monoxide. The grill lid doesn’t protect you.
Ensure you have a working carbon monoxide detector. Test it monthly, and change the batteries every six months.
Inspect the RV for openings in the floor and sidewalls (seal any holes with silicone adhesive or have it repaired before using your generator again). Inspect windows, door seals, and weather strips for effective seal.
Yellow flames in propane-burning appliances (coach heaters, stoves, ovens, water heaters, etc.) indicate a lack of oxygen—determine the cause and correct it immediately.
Inspect the RV chassis and generator exhaust system regularly to ensure they are working properly. “Inspect for exhaust leaks at every startup and after every eight hours of running,” recommends Keystone RV Company in a carbon monoxide fact sheet. Here are a few more of their tips:
Don’t use exhaust fans when the generator’s running. They could cause carbon monoxide to be sucked into the RV.
Fully open or close slide-outs for a proper seal.
Know that parking in a confined space can reduce airflow around the RV and cause carbon monoxide to build up. Even in the woods, if there’s a lot of natural covering, carbon monoxide can hover there rather than disperse. High humidity can also create a covering.
Nearby RVs and vehicles can affect you too. In 2008 in Indianapolis, one man died in his RV from carbon monoxide poisoning and three of his family members were hospitalized, but the family hadn’t been using a generator. Police believe their air conditioner may have pulled in carbon monoxide from the RV parked close to them.
Remember, safety is no accident