LEWIS - Homeowners in Essex County should take note of a new state law calling for wider usage of carbon monoxide alarms.
Gov. David Paterson signed "Amanda's Law" in August 2009, requiring all homes in New York State to be equipped with a carbon monoxide detector. The law took effect Feb. 22.
The law is named for Amanda Hansen, a 16-year-old from West Seneca, N.Y. who died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a defective boiler while staying overnight at a friend's house. As a bill, it was widely supported by legislators of both parties.
It requires homes built prior to 2008 to have a battery-powered carbon monoxide alarm installed on the lowest story having a sleeping area. Those built after 2008 must have a hard-wired alarm with battery back-up on each story with a sleeping area or where a source of carbon monoxide is located.
According to Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish, local enforcement of the law will be exacted through each town's code enforcement officer. There are no specific fines or penalties listed in the law as of yet, but they could be added in the future.
"It's not like you're going to have the carbon monoxide police coming and searching your home or anything like that," said Jaquish, noting that most of the focus will remain on ensuring detectors are installed in apartments and other multi-family units.
Still, Jaquish said, installing at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home is, at the very least, a wise decision for the sake of safety.
"We usually get a fair number of [emergency] calls for [carbon monoxide] alarms going off," said Jaquish, noting one such call as recently as last week in Moriah that led firemen to discover a propane leak.
Deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning have been recorded in Essex County, said Jaquish, though most of them occurred during events like the Ice Storm of 1998 when many people were forced to use gas-powered generators or home heating sources that were not properly ventilated.
"And we have had people who have been affected by carbon monoxide poisoning," He added.
Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas produced any time a fuel is burned. It is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the U.S. Even non-fatal exposure can cause damage to the heart and central nervous system.
As Jaquish explained, the effects of carbon monoxide are cumulative and can develop to poisonous levels over long periods of time. At high concentrations, however, it can become fatal in a matter of minutes.
"It's an oxygen theif," Jaquish said. "It steals oxygen from your blood."
While carbon monoxide is a danger for any home that burns wood or fossil fuels, Jaquish estimates less than half the homes in Essex County have a carbon monoxide detector installed.
"A lot of people do the smoke alarms," he said, "but they don't bother with a carbon monoxide detector."
Fortunately, Jaquish said, most fire departments in Essex County have their own carbon monoxide detecting equipment, some of which also track other harmful gasses. In most cases, they can use those sensors to determine the source of the gas.
In many cases, he said, it is determined to be a false alarm resulting from a defective carbon monoxide detector.
"So you want to be sure to buy one that has a good consumer rating," Jaquish said.
Carbon monoxide detectors generally range in price from $20 to $50, depending on what other features they offer. Most recommend replacement every five years.
"Sometimes a law is in place to force people into safe behaviors," said Jaquish, "but in all cases, it's up to the person to decide the safe thing to do."