By Betty Lawrence
A New Knoxville couple in their 70s were found dead Friday evening in their home at 11873 Glynwood-New Knoxville Road due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, police suspect.
The couple were using a generator to heat their home, something many area residents have been doing since Wednesday's ice storm knocked out power lines throughout the area.
During the past 24 hours there have been numerous people treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, local hospital officials reported. The poisoning has been caused by people incorrectly using generators, kerosene heaters and fireplaces to heat their homes. Many were found to be using the heating devices, which produce carbon monoxide, in unventilated areas.
Sheriff's deputies refused to release many details Friday night about the deaths. The only information available was from a press release by Auglaize County Sheriff Allen Solomon, stating a family member reported finding the couple inside the home at about 5:40 p.m. during a check of the residence. An electric generator was being used by the couple at the location and an elevated level of carbon monoxide was detected in the residence, the release states.
Ken Obringer, public relations director at Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater, termed the carbon monoxide poisoning a public health issue. "We've had 12 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in the emergency room in the past 24 hours, and usually we have only one a month," he said.
In those cases, at least five people were admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay while the others were treated and released. None of the cases in Mercer County were fatal, but could have been if the poisoning was not detected soon enough.
At Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in St. Marys, a spokesperson reported the emergency room had at least four cases of the poisoning Thursday night.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that can poison a person without warning. The gas is produced when fuels, such as gasoline, kerosene, propane, firewood and even charcoal, are burned.
Generators, kerosene heaters, wood burning stoves and even grills that are not installed and used properly can cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
"If you are using a generator, run it outside. If your garage is attached, remember that fumes could be drifting back into the house," Obringer cautioned. "Also, now would be a good time to make sure your carbon monoxide detector is working properly."
Generators should not be placed in enclosed or semi-enclosed areas, such as basements, attached garages and porches, as carbon monoxide can build up to high levels and seep into living areas.
Also, kerosene heaters should only be used in well ventilated rooms, and outdoor gas and charcoal grills and gas camp stoves should only be used outside.
The public is urged to maintain good ventilation before using any gas-powered engine. Windows can be cracked open for ventilation, Obringer suggested.
"Part of the problem is many people with generators are using them for the first time and don't realize the danger from carbon monoxide," Obringer said.
Chimneys should be checked to make sure the flue is open and working properly, and vehicles should not be left running inside a closed garage. Also, do not sleep in a room with a gas or kerosene space heater if it is not properly vented.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poising include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pains, confusion, convulsions and unconsciousness. If left untreated, the condition can be fatal.
-- Daily Standard reporter Sean Rice contributed to this story.