What’s That in the Air?


What’s That in the Air?

It’s Friday night in a busy downtown parking garage. Cars and trucks sit idle while waiting in line for an open parking space, hoping the groups of patrons walking back to their vehicles will alleviate some of the traffic.
As the night progresses, and the garage fills to capacity, a parking attendant takes a break to rest from the busy atmosphere. Sitting down, he notices he’s not feeling so well. A headache has developed, and a wave of nausea overwhelms his body. He shakes them off as the effects of a hectic day of work.
Even after resting a bit, the symptoms persist, and now fatigue has set in as well. What could be wrong?
The symptoms this unfortunate parking attendant is experiencing are the result of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, and various household appliances. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces, such as a parking garage, resulting in poisoning for those who breathe it in.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal
Carbon monoxide is a leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America. This odorless, colorless and tasteless gas is known as the “Silent Killer.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that carbon monoxide poisoning claims nearly 500 lives, and causes more than 15,000 visits to hospital emergency departments annually.
When not properly ventilated, carbon monoxide emitted by these vehicles and appliances can build up. A mechanical ventilation system must be in place and serviced by a qualified technician every year.
Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning such as headaches, nausea and fatigue, are often mistaken for the flu, because the deadly gas goes undetected. Prolonged exposure can lead to brain damage and even death.
People who have symptoms of CO poisoning should seek emergency medical care.
Your best protection is to install a carbon monoxide alarm on each level of your parking facility. A CO monitor with an audible alarm works much like a smoke alarm and beeps loudly when the sensors detect carbon monoxide.
Make sure to regularly inspect every carbon monoxide alarm and always document each inspection.
Parking garage owners need to ensure that the operators of their facilities are maintaining a safe environment and keeping staff out of
harm’s way.
For more information on carbon monoxide detection and prevention, go to www.cdc.gov/co or www.cdc.gov/features/copoisoning.
Kathy Phillips, CIC, CPP, is Senior Vice President of Alliant Insurance Services. She can be reached at

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Kathy Phillips
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