Carbon monoxide probe widens | ParkRecord.com

Carbon monoxide probe widens

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

City Hall officials are investigating whether other units in a Prospector work force housing project are susceptible to carbon monoxide, the deadly gas that sickened eight people there earlier in the week.

Ron Ivie, Park City’s chief building official, expects the probe to last another week, however, and with cold temperatures forecasted to grip the area, people will likely be running furnaces through the investigation.

Ivie blamed a malfunctioning furnace for the carbon-monoxide release in a Cooke Drive duplex on Dec. 8. The eight people suffered varying degrees of carbon-monoxide poisoning, and ambulances took them to Salt Lake Valley hospitals.

Ivie says it appears other furnaces in the project are working correctly, but the wider investigation is needed. He calls the case "damn worrisome."

"If that had gone on for an hour or so, we would have been dealing with dead people, not sick people," Ivie says.

He was told a crew fixed the furnace in the Cooke Drive duplex the day after the people were sickened.

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According to Ivie, the furnace had not been adjusted properly for Park City’s altitude, which is generally about 7,000 feet above sea level. He explains that the rate the gas was entering the furnace was too high, causing the appliance not to properly burn the fuel.

That produced the carbon monoxide, he says.

At altitude, there is less oxygen in the air, and Ivie says the amount of gas and air entering the furnace should have been balanced better.

A Questar crew discovered the problem. A spokesperson for the company says Questar will assist if requested by Ivie, but crews usually do not investigate inside a residence unless a carbon-monoxide detector has sounded or someone smells gas.

Ivie says the problem likely existed since the furnace was installed, but details about when it was put in the unit were not immediately available.

Meanwhile, Ivie says his investigators and Questar intend to research gas bills from the other units. If they are unusually high, the furnaces might not be working properly, he says.

People ignore maintenance

Ivie estimates less than half the people in Park City have hired a professional to inspect their furnaces, potentially making the equipment susceptible to problems.

Worsening the scenario, he says, furnaces are usually used in cold weather, when windows are shut. If the furnace emits carbon monoxide, the gas stays inside.

Some places, especially in Old Town, are known for having numerous drafts, however, Ivie says. The drafts allow the carbon monoxide to escape to the outside.

The Cooke Drive unit where the poisonings occurred is not ventilated with drafts, and the recent weather has been the coldest of the season, forcing people to shut their windows.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency, suggests a professional inspect appliances, chimneys and vents each year.

The Park City Building Department is available to check furnaces.

For more information about the Building Department’s inspections, call 615-5100. Ivie’s number is 615-5105.

Law requires detectors

State law requires carbon monoxide detectors on each level of a newly constructed house, condominium, apartment or other place someone lives that has a fuel-burning appliance.

Ivie says City Hall was influential in making the rule.

The Cooke Drive duplex predates the state law.

Meanwhile, the state law also requires smoke alarms in each bedroom and in spots outside but nearby the bedrooms. They are required to be installed on each level, including basements.

Stores stock CO detectors

Local stores like Wal-Mart and The Home Depot late in the week had many carbon-monoxide detectors in stock, with prices starting at less than $20.

At Wal-Mart, there were several models, with prices as low as $18.44. The prices topped out at $35.67 for a model that combines a smoke detector and a carbon-monoxide detector.

At The Home Depot, a worker indicated the store sells seven models of carbon-monoxide detectors, with prices starting at $19.87. The most expensive was priced at $59.97.

Meanwhile, Ethan Ford, a manager at Park City Auto Parts and Hardware in Prospector, reported the store had three models in stock, with prices ranging from $21.99 to $54.99.

"They’re picking up in popularity, I think, because of the media. There’s more cases, there’s more houses," Ford says.

Property managers frequently buy detectors, he says. The store has sold 21 carbon-monoxide detectors in 2007, according to Ford.

Safety experts recommend people use the detectors. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can be fatal.