AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE OF CO IN YOUR BUILDING
Between 2010 and 2015, 2,244 people died from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. With symptoms like confusion, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath, CO poisoning is a threat in both residential and commercial buildings. We always look for signs of CO during inspection. Fortunately, these days we rarely find it.
About a decade ago, when outside air was pulled in from a loading dock, a common source of CO in commercial buildings came from the semitrucks that were allowed to idle in the dock. People would complain about the diesel odor, but they didn’t realize they were also breathing in dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide. Since then, building owners have learned not to let trucks idle at loading docks, and buildings that used to pull air from the docks have turned off outdoor air units or routed the intake elsewhere.
These changes are important to the health and safety of building tenants, but they haven’t put an end to carbon monoxide being present in commercial buildings entirely. Often, when we walk through a building and find evidence of CO, it is present in the strangest places.
If your building has a large conference or meeting room, you’ve likely had tenants contract for hot breakfast or lunch for attendees. To keep the meal warm, big metal warming dishes with Sterno burners are often the go-to. While cheaper and more efficient than an electric hot plate, experience has taught us that when Sterno is being used, carbon monoxide will occur.
A few Sterno burners warming buffet food aren’t likely to lead to CO poisoning throughout your whole building, but someone lingering near the food can experience the symptoms of CO poisoning, like headaches or dizziness. Sterno burners should only be operated for the minimum amount of time required to keep dishes warm and should not be allowed to burn endlessly without supervision.
This is yet another example of how indoor air quality is a group responsibility and how problems can arise in the most unexpected places. Keep an eye on what is brought into your building and consider having a carbon monoxide detector available.