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December 30, 2010

Don't let your home poison you

Here's a heartfelt plea in light of the recent spate of carbon monoxide deaths: Don't become the next statistic.

CO can kill when appliances that burn fuel -- gas, oil, wood, etc. -- are used improperly or stop working well, or when a car is left to idle in an enclosed space, the Environmental Protection Agency says. Because it's odorless, the only warning you'll get is the symptoms that develop as you're being poisoned.

"At moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. ... Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health," the EPA says on its website. "Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause."

Two people were killed and three badly sickened by carbon monoxide in a Baltimore rowhouse this week after leaving open the door of a gas oven that was turned on, possibly to heat the second-floor apartment.

Carbon monoxide, apparently from a faulty furnace, killed two others in Pikesville earlier in the month.

And eight people were hospitalized after CO exposure in Pigtown yesterday, though fortunately they appear to have escaped serious injury.

Here are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of running afoul of this silent killer:

Continue reading "Don't let your home poison you" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Health and housing
        

September 25, 2009

Healthy -- and not-so-healthy -- homes

If you're a renter and have issues with your place, you're in good company. Half the rentals in the Baltimore metro area had at least one problem in 2007. But don't feel bad -- 41 percent of owner-occupied homes did, too.

Those are two nuggets from a new report by the Columbia-based National Center for Healthy Housing, which used federal American Housing Survey data on 45 metro areas to show "a critical need to improve housing conditions in many U.S. cities." The nonprofit group says substandard residences can cause illness, injury or death.

The State of Healthy Housing study ranks the Baltimore metro area 29th -- meaning that 28 other areas have healthier housing. Compared with the national average, the Baltimore area had more homes with leaks, with cracks or holes in walls, and with broken plaster or peeling paint.

You're more likely to find a local home with at least one problem: 44 percent here vs. 36 percent nationally.

On the upside, less than 1 percent of Baltimore-area homes had no kitchens. (Who are these poor kitchen-less people?)

The study breaks down information by city and suburb as well as renter and owner. Here's the stat that popped out at me: 32 percent of homes in Baltimore City had mouse problems. That's higher than any of the other central cities in the study. No. 2: Philadelphia, with 26 percent.

How's the condition of your place?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Health and housing
        

July 1, 2009

This story makes me feel itchy

The City Paper's Edward Ericson Jr. has a story that will send a chill down the backs of homeowners and renters alike: Bed bugs are an increasing problem in parts of Baltimore. (There's a map here showing the location of bed-bug-related 311 calls.)

He writes, "They are fiendishly hard to eradicate, tougher than roaches, silent as a draft."

Just the thought of them makes some of the people interviewed in his story start "involuntarily" scratching. Many of the readers probably have, too.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:17 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Health and housing
        

June 25, 2009

Avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning

Liz Kay's story today about five Essex residents hospitalized with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is a sober reminder to us all that it's not a bad idea to know the warning signals. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says an average of 170 people die in the United States each year from carbon monoxide produced by things other than cars and trucks -- furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters and the like.

Three residents of the Cove Village townhouse complex in Essex died in 2005. That's the same neighborhood where the recently hospitalized people live.

So what should you watch out for? Here's what the Environmental Protection Agency says:

At moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. You can even die if these levels persist for a long time. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause.

Carbon monoxide is odorless, so don't wait around for a funny smell.

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, go outside right away -- fresh air helps -- and get to an emergency room.

The EPA says the quality of carbon monoxide detectors varies quite a bit, so you'll want to do some research if you're planning to buy one. Even if you're satisfied with the one you get, the EPA says, "don’t let buying a CO detector lull you into a false sense of security."

The agency offers a checklist of ways to avoid problems in the first place, such as having your fuel-burning appliances checked at the start of each heating season and never idling your car in the garage.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:43 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Health and housing
        
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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