Carbon monoxide poisoning reaches ‘epidemic’ level across Ontario

Ontario officials reported more than 700 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning Friday — the third day in a row poison control workers responded to calls for carbon monoxide alarms in homes across the province.

Janice Spencer of Canada’s Health Protection and Promotion Agency confirmed that more than 600 calls were placed on Thursday, and another 111 calls were received Friday.

The scope of this emergency is rapidly spreading, with emergency room physicians reporting patients exhibiting signs of carbon monoxide poisoning Friday from Toronto and other parts of Ontario.

“These are the most prevalent childhood poisonings. They’re often caused by ground-floor water heaters or heater coils that aren’t properly insulated,” Spencer said.

Particles can accumulate in a home during a cold winter. In an area plagued by heavy snowfall in the last week or so, Spencer noted there was even more snow to break up.

“Any amount of snow can begin to accumulate around snow blowers and furnaces,” she said.

The poison-control calls this week have been particularly notable since there is a possibility that longer days without snow, combined with cold temperatures, may have magnified the effects of CO poisoning.

Spencer noted that new vehicles and automobile engines are prone to overheating and burning fuel, but also household appliances can burn too much fuel.

“Home users can sometimes burn 100 pounds of gas,” she said.

Carbon monoxide poisoning generally occurs when a CO emissions alarm is not enough to alert authorities.

About a third of all emergency room visits in Ontario are for carbon monoxide poisoning — up from 18 percent in 2016 — according to Environment Canada’s federal health agency.

Ottawa-based SNAP Doctors of Ontario-Canada has added an online training tool to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning this winter. The site includes a listening tour, a helpful checklist and an overview of local “booster” programs available throughout the province.

J Hanna may be reached at [email protected].

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