Strange, isn't it, these spasms afflicting the American public and news media over matters of life and death? So phobic are we about nuclear power, Alar, PCBs, CFCs and other environmental bogeymen with zero documented casualties, yet so carefree about indisputable hazards that take a horrific toll - like invisible, tasteless, odorless, but ubiquitous carbon monoxide.
Estimates vary, but the American Medical Association thinks it likely that some 2,100 people a year die from it, with more than 10,000 taking ill. Nobody knows for sure because the symptoms of CO poisoning - fatigue, headaches, dizzy spells and nausea - are easily confused with those of flu, food poisoning or many other common ailments. This confusion probably explains why people don't get more alarmed. It does not make CO any less deadly, however.
Short-Term ConcernEvery so often the media picks up on a story that should jolt us out of our complacency. It happened last spring when a family of six from Long Island was wiped out by CO attributed to blocked vents in the home's heating system. A celebrity's CO death, tennis star Vitas Gerulaitas, led to a burst of publicity in 1994. A few years before that, a family of 10 in Chicago was done in by a faulty furnace installation. This led the city to enact the nation's first ordinance mandating CO detectors in residences.
For some reason, these stories don't have the staying power of wispier health hazards. I bet more people are concerned about radon seepage into their homes than CO asphyxiation, even though radon is a serious concern for less than 1 percent of American households, while virtually every home in America contains potentially deadly sources of CO. A little harmless asbestos pipe insulation has quashed the sale of many a home, but how many folks even bother to test CO levels in a dwelling they're about to purchase?
CO is out of sight and out of mind in our day-to-day lives. Hardly anyone understands the extent of risk from this stealthy menace, or that the best protection is dealing with well-trained plumbing and heating professionals who know how to spot dangerous CO conditions and put a stop to them. Instead, most people would rather save a few bucks by calling the neighborhood handyman to fool around with their water heaters, boilers and furnaces.
Call To ActionPlumbing and heating contractors are always griping about their negative image in the eyes of the public. This is a perfect opportunity to do something about it. This month's cover story focuses on a company, Nebrasky Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, that has taken the ball and run with it. I'd like to see hundreds of other companies around the industry follow its lead.
Raising CO awareness with the public is a way for people in our industry to present themselves in a positive light, as protectors of public health and safety, and highly skilled professionals. It's a worthy crusade for trade associations and individual companies. Plenty of free information is available from government agencies, such as the EPA (www.epa.gov) and Consumer Products Safety Commission (www.cpsc.com). Do a Web search on "carbon monoxide poisoning" and you'll come up with dozens of good sources you can incorporate into your own marketing materials.
Besides being a public service, a CO-awareness campaign might be just what your company needs to stand out from the competition and generate profitable business. Position yourself as the CO expert in your community. Make extra money selling and installing CO detectors. Be the first one your local news media tries to contact whenever CO poisoning rears its ugly head.
Do well by doing good.