Carbon monoxide concerns: Were deaths preventable?

There's concern the heavy snowfall that's piled up across Central New York and our cold weather could increase carbon monoxide hazards.

State fire officials are concerned the snow could lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide in homes if snow covers furnace vents and air intakes. If you know where they are, keep them clear, says Deputy Syracuse Fire Chief Steve Cavuto. "If you don't know where it is, go look for it."

The warning comes too late for a young Rochester woman. The 20-year-old died last week after her apartment filled with carbon monoxide. There was no carbon monoxide detector in her apartment. It's the second recent death in Monroe County from carbon monoxide poisonin. Just last month, a 54-year-old man was found unresponsive in his Penfield home and later died. Investigators say two carbon monoxide detectors went off, but the devices were moved outside the house.

It happened again just this past weekend in Maryland. Two people were killed and almost a dozen others were sickened by a carbon monoxide leak at a home in Pikesville.

Perhaps their lives could have been saved by a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. You cannot see it, smell it or taste it. The only safe way to detect it is with a carbon monoxide alarm. They cost around $20-50.

All homes in New York state are now required to have carbon monoxide alarms as well as smoke alarms. Earlier this year, the governor signed Amanda's Law, requiring carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in all new and existing buildings. It's named after Amanda Hansen of West Seneca who died last year due to a carbon monoxide leak from a defective boiler. Do you have a detector in your home?

Blocked exhaust vents, leaking heating pipes (including chimneys blocked by animals) and cars running in garages are major sources of carbon monoxide. Homes 'buttoned up' against the cold with extra insulation and energy efficient windows also do not allow the odorless, tasteless gas to escape, making for increased risk.

It can kill quickly, or create flu-like symptoms over time. Chief Cavuto says there have been several cases of ambulance calls for a sick person, and when firefighters get to the home and find all family members ill, a check for carbon monoxide shows low--but still sickening--levels.

According to the CDC, carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the U.S., claiming some 400 lives every year. More than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized. Approximately 200 people in New York state are sent to the hospital each year with carbon monoxide poisoning. Fatalities are highest among those 65 and older. Accidents tend to happen in the winter months.

State Fire Administrator Floyd Madison says several fire departments have seen an increase in carbon monoxide calls.In Syracuse, there are alarms that the fire department responds to once or twice a leak.

Click here for a fact sheet on carbon monoxide poisoning.

Get answers to frequently asked questions about carbon monoxide.

For more information about carbon monoxide detection, click here.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.