Sunday, November 05, 2006

Air and water can turn into a deadly combination

The recent heavy rains in Chennai and the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu last week hit normal life and saw a lot of chaos, destruction, and death. Not to mention the scores of diseases that the slums have picked up due to rainwater stagnation, there were also reported and unreported incidents of drowning, deaths due to ineffective sanitation facilities, accidents due to traffic holdup et al. Oh! and the freak accident of three young men dying in their sleep while simply sitting inside their parked car with the engine and air-conditioning running.

That is exactly what the three software engineers did on the night of October 28th on a busy GN Chetty road in T-Nagar. The stormy night had the rains lashing against every vehicle on the roads and had forced numerous car owners to crawl along the jammed roads to get home. The trio was found dead inside their car the next morning. With the postmortem report indicating that the cause of death was suffocation, most believe that it may have been due to the fatal Carbon Mono-oxide gas creeping into their system.

They had apparently parked their car alongside the road to wait for the remainder of the traffic to edge by. Their air-conditioning set in re-circulate mode (which is set by most car owners to ensure the polluted air does not sneak in), the engine running, the windows up; the occupants inside the car were oblivious to the fact that they were being silently killed. Since the exhaust pipe was submerged inside the waters, there was no outlet for the exhaust fumes, invariably, leaving the deadly CO gas to get into the car through the air-conditioning vent. CO has the property of entering into the blood stream at a tremendous rate causing little or no symptoms of suffocation at all. In fact, the only symptoms that a physician says are nausea, giddiness, and fatigue that we would brush off as a result of the stressful work day.

How would you justify someone drifting off to a peaceful sleep and never waking up at all? The incident sent shock-waves among many vehicle owners in the city.

However, Chennai City Traffic Police (CCTP) has given a report on how to stay out of CO trouble in your car.

  • Keep your windows down
  • Keep your car’s air-con system in ‘ventilate’ mode
  • Turn the engine off if the situation looks difficult to handle
  • Ensure your power-windows and central-locking are kept open. It’s rare, but your car’s electric system can short out with rising floodwaters and may jam the system.
  • Carry a hammer with a pointed end or an ice pick in the car — if you have to break a window open
  • Finally, if you find symptoms of CO poisoning, take it seriously, get out of your car and get as much fresh air as possible.

(The above report is from CCTP: courtesy The Hindu)

More on the repercussions of the monsoons in my next post.

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