Owners of houses that have a fossil fuel-burning appliance, such as a fireplace, or an attached garage, must equip their residences with an appropriate number of carbon monoxide detectors — electronic devices, similar to smoke detectors, that perpetually monitor the air for the poisonous gas.
The Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act, California Senate Bill 183, was approved by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last year and went into effect on July 1.
"The law was put into place because people have lost their lives from carbon monoxide poisoning," said Jaime Garrett, a spokeswoman with the Mountain View Fire Department.
Carbon monoxide, Garrett said, is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause various health problems when inhaled by humans; in large enough quantities it can result in death.
According to the bill, there are as many as 40 "avoidable deaths" each year caused by carbon monoxide poisoning in California.
"Carbon monoxide is a silent killer," said Tonya Hoover, acting state fire marshal, in a press release from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. According to Hoover, the gas is responsible for an average of 480 deaths and more than 20,000 trips to the emergency room each year in the United States.
Shortness of breath, mild nausea and headaches have been reported after low-level exposure to the gas. Headaches, dizziness, confusion, extreme nausea and faintness are all symptoms of moderate exposure. Prolonged, severe exposure can lead to death.
During a recent community outreach campaign, Garrett said the Mountain View Fire Department encountered many people who were either unaware of the dangers of carbon monoxide or lived in homes without carbon monoxide detectors.
Garrett said that the fire department will not be actively enforcing the new law, but if emergency responders were to come to a home and discover that it was not properly equipped, the owner of the property will be asked to install a detector within 30 days.
If someone is injured or killed by carbon monoxide in a single-family residence that is not properly equipped with detectors, Garrett said, the owner of that property could be subject to a lawsuit.
Owners of multiple family residences, such as apartment complexes and hotels, have until Jan. 1, 2013 to install carbon monoxide detectors in their properties.
Carbon monoxide detectors are sold at local hardware stores and at big box retailers, Garrett said. She has seen them for as little as $19 and for as much as $80. Some come as combination smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector.
Garrett said some detectors are better than others and that different residences have different needs, depending on their size and number of rooms. A list of approved devices and instructions for how should be installed can be found at http://osfm.fire.ca.gov.
The Mountain View Fire Department is currently trying to find an organization in the community that could help low-income people offset the cost of buying carbon monoxide detectors, Garrett said. Anyone seeking financial assistance in purchasing detectors should check back with the fire department's website periodically: http://www.ci.mtnview.ca.us/city_hall/fire/
Ultimately, Garrett said, installing carbon monoxide detectors is just a good idea — whether it is legally mandated or not. "Besides it being a law, we highly recommend that everyone has one in their home," she said. "This law is intended to make sure that you and your family are safe in your home."