Earlier this year, the same killer struck four individuals in Berkeley. Who was it? Carbon monoxide, an invisible and odorless gas that can make you sick, cause brain damage, and even kill you. Carbon monoxide can build up indoors if combustion is incomplete or an appliance’s exhaust is malfunctioning or obstructed.

In January of this year (2017), two Berkeley residents were discovered dead in their apartment. Police determined that the couple, both in their 30s, died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Their two cats suffered the same fate. At first, reports claimed that the source of the gas was a generator the couple was running to power a 3-d printer, but those reports were later discounted.

Less than one month later, another Berkeley couple were found dead in their apartment, also, it was presumed, from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The sad thing is, these deaths might have been prevented if the owners of the two residents had followed California state law (SB 183) and installed carbon monoxide detectors outside of each sleeping area. These devices are required in each residence if it is equipped with an appliance such as a stove or dryer that burns fossil fuels, a fireplace, or an attached garage. A detector had been installed in the residence of the couple that died in January, but not in the upstairs area  where the couple were found dead. Even owners who occupy their own residences must install the detectors. Failure to do so could result in a $200 fine.

If you regularly listen to TED talks, you might have heard a talk last year by Carrie Poppy, an investigative journalist who specializes in debunking claims of the paranormal. She was living in a guest house and got a “spooky feeling” when living there. She felt pressure in her chest, and that “sinking feeling” worsened. She eventually felt that the house was haunted. Luckily, she went online and asked for an explanation, and she got it: carbon monoxide poisoning. Pressure on the chest, auditory hallucinations, and a feeling of dread are some of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. (See emedicinehealth.com for a complete list of symptoms.) Luckily she called the gas company, which detected the gas and corrected the problem immediately.

Before you rush out to the hardware store to buy a carbon monoxide detector, check out this list from the California State Fire Marshall of approved carbon monoxide detectors. In our Home Repair Program, CESC regularly installs the carbon monoxide alarm pictured above, the Defender 6150, which has a battery that lasts for ten years. You can’t uninstall the battery, which means a guest can’t inadvertently disable the alarm.

What are some other ways of preventing carbon monoxide poisoning? Here are a few courtesy of the Mayo Clinic:

  • Open the garage door before starting your car.
  • Use gas appliances as recommended.
  • Don’t run a generator in an enclosed space, such as the basement or garage.
  • Keep your fuel-burning appliances and engines properly vented.
  • If you have a fireplace, keep it in good repair. Clean your fireplace chimney and flue every year.

Worried about elderly relatives? CESC’s Home Repair Programs help keep residents safe. We frequently install carbon monoxide detectors and other safety measures in the homes of low-income residents. Contact us if you or someone you know could benefit from these services.