Carbon Monoxide

A Bike-Friendly EPA Headquarters

By Ed Fendley

It’s awesome to be part of an agency that’s helped clean America’s air and water and is working to reduce emissions of deadly mercury. Now I’ve got a new – and local – reason to appreciate the EPA: outdoor bicycle racks here at our headquarters buildings.

Recently, four sets of modern bike racks were installed outside at the Federal Triangle campus in Washington, D.C., as part of a broader EPA plan to welcome bicycling by employees and visitors. (We already have bike parking in our basement garages.)

Giving people choices in how to get around is a great thing. Studies show that if people can conveniently walk, bike, or take transit, many of them will choose to drive less – reducing traffic and cleaning the air.

And that fits neatly into our mission at EPA. According to EPA’s Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2009 (April 2011), roughly 17 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions come from passenger vehicles. Investing in public transit and other transportation options, like biking, make it easier for people to drive less, lowering greenhouse gas emissions. These approaches can also help reduce carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and other pollutants emitted by motor vehicles.

As EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld recently wrote, there are lots of good reasons to ride a bike – including pure joy. I can relate: my kids and I ride a lot. They bike to school and we often tool around on the weekends together. I’ve also ridden to work for 20 years now. It’s exciting to see that bicycling rates are increasing rapidly across the country.

Building design is part of that. Convenient bike parking, as well as showers and lockers, get more people riding. Placing racks within 50 feet of building entrances is recommended as it helps visitors who may not have access to the parking garage. It also helps employees like me who bike during the day to meetings around town.

As more employees and visitors choose to ride, EPA will need to make further improvements. But for the moment, I’ll pause to celebrate as I park my bike and stroll into my office.

About the author: Ed Fendley is a senior policy analyst with the Office of Sustainable Communities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Getting Off To A Good Start

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lina Younes

As many of us are still in the spirit of getting off to a good start in the New Year, I believe it is timely to discuss emergency planning at home so that we can be ready for whatever nature might send our way this year.

As we have often stated during the hurricane season and now during the winter months, it’s important to prepare today in order to be safer tomorrow.  I’m sure that many of you have witnessed how there seems to be panic shopping at local supermarkets and hardware stores whenever there are reports of snow storms or hurricanes. So why not stock up on the basic necessities that you will need in the event of an emergency? How can you get ready?

  • Stock up on batteries and flashlights when they are on sale.
  • Have a battery powered radio at hand.
  • Have bottled water at hand in case of an emergency.
  • Stock up on canned goods or non-perishable food.
  • If you have infants and young children, stock up on baby formula, diapers, baby wipes, etc.
  • Don’t forget your pets.  Identify where you can shelter your pets in the event that you may have to evacuate.
  • Have a list of your prescriptions and emergency papers on hand in a safe place in the event that you may need to evacuate.
  • When developing your family plan, make sure you also develop a contingency plan for your elderly relatives or those with limited mobility in the event of an emergency.
  • Something that I learned last summer all to well, fill your tank with gas and have some cash on hand before a major storm because it may be difficult to get these services after a storm or black out.
  • Get the emergency numbers for your local utilities and basic services.
  • Sign up to receive instant messages with updated news and emergency information.
  • In the event of a power outage, NEVER USE A GENERATOR INSIDE. Protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning from generator exhaust.

Remember, basic planning will keep you and your loved ones safe. Do you have any tips that you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Do You Have A CO Detector In Your Home?

By Lina Younes

Recently I was reading the weekly community paper and a front page story caught my attention. “CO detector saves local family.” According to the article, the local fire department station responded to a carbon monoxide (CO) detector going off in the early morning hours. The homeowners were awakened by the CO detector that detected the presence of carbon monoxide in the home. When the firefighters arrived, they found unhealthy levels of the poisonous gas in the home as a result of a broken furnace exhaust pipe which was discharging the exhaust directly into the home. Had the family not had a CO detector, the outcome of this incident would have been very different.

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide poisonings often occur as a result of people using generators in closed areas or using gas burning appliances improperly in the home. Using these appliances properly can prevent carbon monoxide poisonings. As we saw in this case, a CO detector quickly indicated unhealthy CO levels early, thus protecting the family.

Why are carbon monoxide detectors important? Well, carbon monoxide is an odorless toxic gas which you can’t see, taste or smell. Exposure to these toxic fumes at low levels can easily be mistaken for flu-like symptoms. Yet, at a higher concentration or a lengthier exposure, CO will be deadly. Detectors will quickly register unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide, thus setting an alarm. It is recommended to place these CO detectors just outside of sleeping areas so that they will alert families even while sleeping and help save them as we saw in this instance.

  • What other steps can you take to prevent carbon monoxide from entering your home?
  • Well, first and foremost, never use generators inside the home or enclosed areas
  • Keep your gas appliances properly adjusted
  • Install and use exhaust fans vented to the outdoors over gas stoves
  • If you are going to burn wood in your home, do so properly.

By taking these simple steps, you’ll have a healthier indoor environment and protect your family. Stay safe.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During the Summer Month

By James T. Young

We don’t think about carbon monoxide poisoning as a hazard in the summer, but it is. One reason is that the practice of “cooking out” in the summer can paradoxically, become “cooking in.” Imagine this scenario. You are having a lovely Fourth of July afternoon with your children, grandchildren or friends in the backyard of your home. For weeks you’ve been promising everyone a fantastic meal, built around your “Triple Threat Burgers, beef or vegetarian, guaranteed to please.” The soaked wood chips are on the grill. The charcoal briquettes have been heated to a glowing red and the burgers have been placed on the grill, when….suddenly….it pours down rain.

Everyone rushes into the garage. Two guys quickly whisk the grill away from the storm and into the garage. Everyone claps and cheers because the famous burgers have been saved. But no one realizes that a new danger has been created: the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from burning charcoal briquettes in an enclosed space.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. These properties make it difficult for a person to detect when it is present. CO is easily absorbed through the lungs as we inhale. When CO is inhaled it enters the bloodstream and blocks oxygen from being absorbed into the body. CO poisoning can lead to damaged tissue and can result in death. In fact, carbon monoxide is the most common cause of poisoning death in the United States. It is also the most common type of fatal poisoning in many countries.

The risk of CO poisoning is of special concern to minorities. According one study, CO poisoning in the United States is more prevalent among blacks and “Hispanic whites,” than among the non-Hispanic white population. Most of the poisoning was due to “indoor burning” of charcoal briquettes. It is important to realize that charcoal briquettes give off carbon monoxide the entire time that they are hot. Do not use charcoal briquettes if you are going to grill inside an enclosed area.

Read the fact sheet on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning

About the author: James T. Young was a chemist at NIH for thirteen years before ending up a program analyst in the Public Health Service his last twelve years of government service. He has enjoyed being a SEE employee since 1995.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Finally Had To Buy That Generator

By Lina Younes

During the recent storms, my home was one of the thousands in the Washington, DC metro area that remained without power for several days. For some reason, my home seems to be located in an area that is prone to power outages, whether in the winter or the summer. There have been many occasions in which several streets near my home have endured a blackout while other houses a few streets down in the same neighborhood stay with power at all times. How does that happen? I simply don’t know.

For years, I had resisted purchasing a generator.  My main concern was for environmental reasons. Basically, I didn’t want a gas-based appliance emitting carbon monoxide and other gases close to my house. However, when we called the utility company during this last storm and they informed us that we were probably going to be without electricity for several days, we had no choice. We finally had to purchase one. So, I made sure that the generator was outside, far away from the house to minimize exposure to carbon monoxide.

I must confess that the experience during the recent power outage was not all negative. On the contrary, the first evening of the snowstorm when the power went out, we gather together around the warm chimney, got some flashlights, and started playing card games. It was great family time. When it was time to go to bed, we just snuggled in our beds with some extra blankets. By the second day, in spite of the Energy Star windows, the temperature inside started to drop beyond comfort. In light of the situation, we decided it was time to buy the generator.

After observing the necessary safety measures, at least we know that if we’re left without power again, we’ll be prepared. How was your experience during the recent snow storms? Send us your comments.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Are You Ready for a Snowstorm?

By Lina Younes

Luckily meteorologists in the Washington, DC metro area are not forecasting a major snowstorm in the near future. Nonetheless, as survivors of Snowgeddon 2010, my family and I are beginning to discuss preparations for the next major North American blizzard. We’re not all on the same page, though. While my youngest is praying for another major snow storm so that she can stay home and go sledding, my husband and I are debating the pro’s and con’s of investing in a snow blower and/or generator.

During the first day of Snowgeddon 2010, we were without electricity for 15 hours.  Energy Star windows kept the house comfortable for nearly 12 hours. When it started to get cold, we lit a fire and had great family time around the fireplace. While a cozy fireplace is still an option, we have to make sure that we burn firewood wisely.  Smoke produces a combination of gases and fine particles from burning wood. If you don’t use your wood-burning appliance properly, you can expose your family to serious health effects,
especially if they suffer from heart or respiratory diseases.

Personally, I am very concerned about the use of generators around the home. These gasoline-powered appliances can produce deadly concentrations of carbon monoxide in indoor air. Even though I know we have to operate generators outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, the mere thought of the nearby exhaust scares me. Although we have a carbon monoxide detector, don’t want to have my family anywhere near that exhaust.

Now the other thing we’re also debating is the issue of the snow blower. It was not fun shoveling those tons of snow and we have the “battle scars” to prove it. Furthermore, gas-operated equipment like snowblowers and generators are also sources of air pollution, something we should all try to prevent. The only thing that is making me consider investing in this high ticket item is the probability that if we buy it, it won’t snow this year. We shall see. Are you preparing for snowgeddon 2011?

More about snow and ice

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Beware of Silent Killers

Old Man Winter definitely has been hitting with a vengeance this season. While these spells of subfreezing temperatures and wintry mixes cause numerous problems on the nation’s roads, one of the areas of greatest risk might be in our own homes if we don’t take the right steps to protect our families.

Snow and ice storms can lead to blackouts. People often resort to portable generators to power up the house. Others use combustion appliances to stay warm. Please note, that generator exhaust is extremely toxic! These generators need to be outside, away from doors, windows, and vents. They produce carbon monoxide (CO) which builds up quickly and is deadly. Since you cannot smell, see, or taste this exhaust, this gas can buildup with tragic consequences.

Furthermore, area heaters which operate as combustion appliances also present their own environmental hazards if not used properly. These appliances that burn fuels liquid kerosene, coal, and wood have to be properly maintained and installed in order to minimize the production of toxic gases in the home such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Once again, ventilation is key!

While we’re addressing those invisible and silent killers like carbon monoxide, we cannot forget radon. It is a radioactive gas that may be present in your home. Exposure to radon causes lung cancer in non-smokers and smokers alike. In fact, EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month. The Agency recommends that homeowners and renters have their home tested for radon. Test kits are easy to use. They can be ordered online or purchased at a local hardware store.

For other suggestions on how you can do something today to protect the environment where you live, work, and play, just visit our Pick 5 page. That’s a good way to start the new year.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Ojo a los asesinos silenciosos

La temporada invernal ha sido implacable este año. Mientras las gélidas temperaturas y nevadas pueden ocasionar numerosos problemas en las carreteras a nivel nacional, una de las áreas de mayor riesgo podría estar en nuestros propios hogares si no tomamos las precauciones necesarias para proteger nuestras familias.

Las tormentas de nieve y hielo pueden ocasionar apagones. Hay personas que utilizan generadores portátiles para producir electricidad en las casas. Otras usan enseres a base de combustión para calentar. Tengan en cuenta que los gases de escape de estos generadores son extremadamente tóxicos. Estos generadores tienen que ser colocados al exterior de la casa lejos de puertas, ventanas o rendijas. Estos generadores producen monóxido de carbono (CO) que se acumula rápidamente y puede ser mortal. Como no se pueden oler, ver ni saborear los escapes, este gas se puede acumular con trágicas consecuencias.

Además, las unidades de calefacción a base de combustión también presentan sus propios riesgos medioambientales si no son operados adecuadamente. Estos enseres que queman combustibles como querosén líquido, carbón y madera deben ser instalados y manejados debidamente para minimizar la producción de gases tóxicos en el hogar como el monóxido de carbono, el dióxido de nitrógeno y el dióxido de azufre. ¡La ventilación es clave!

Al mencionar los asesinos invisibles y silenciosos como el monóxido de carbono, no podemos olvidarnos del radón. Este es un gas radioactivo que puede existir en su hogar. La exposición al radón ocasiona cáncer pulmonar entre los no-fumadores y fumadores por igual. De hecho, la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de Estados Unidos ha designado enero como el Mes Nacional de Acción del Radón. La agencia recomienda a los propietarios e inquilinos que hagan la prueba del radón en el hogar. Estas pruebas son fáciles de hacer. Se pueden ordenar vía el Internet o comprar en una ferretería cercana.

Para más sugerencias sobre lo que usted puede hacer hoy mismo para proteger el medio ambiente donde vive, trabaja y juega, visite nuestra página de Seleccione 5 Esa es una buena manera de comenzar el nuevo año.

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Smell the Holidays

Today begins the countdown for holidays. That is, unless you haven’t already started counting down the days. Usually, it’s during this time, that I pull out my cookie sheets and apron and begin baking. It’s really the only time of year that I truly get into baking. I absolutely love making cookies. My favorite kind of cookie to make is spritz. Even though I might only make a couple dozen cookies, it seems like my house smells of the sweet aroma radiating from the oven for days.

While the weather outside is cold and windy, I can be assured that the heat from all of the baking inside my house keeps me warm. I love the smells of the holidays. Smells of baking, scented candles, and roasted pecans keep me inside for most of December. However, there may be one smell that you and your family may not be able to nor want to smell. I am talking about carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is produced whenever a fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. If appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can result.

Knowing the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can help. At very moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, dizziness, confused, nauseated, or faint. If you do experience these symptoms, get fresh air immediately! Also, go to an emergency room and tell the physician you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. It can be diagnosed by a simple blood test done shortly after exposure.

Here are some tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Make sure your fuel-burning appliances e.g. gas furnaces, gas ranges and ovens, fireplaces, and wood stoves inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season.
  • Make sure flues and chimneys are connected and in good condition without being blocked.
  • Don’t idle the car in a garage, even if the garage door is open.
  • Don’t sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.

By taking steps ahead of time, you and your family can enjoy all the wonderful smells of the holiday baking season. And the tastes that come with it as well!

About the author: Emily Bruckmann is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a senior attending Indiana University who will graduate with a degree in public health this spring.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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