Weather forces truckers to weigh warmth, carbon monoxide risks

By Clarissa Hawes, Land Line staff writer | 2/27/2015

As temperatures continue to plunge into single digits around the country, truck drivers are forced to idle or use an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) or a portable generator to stay warm.

A former truck driver says she’s on a mission to save lives, pushing for Underwriters Laboratories, a nonprofit product safety testing and certification organization, to develop a standard for carbon monoxide detectors in Class 8 trucks.

After her brother suffered a mild stroke linked to carbon monoxide poisoning, Virginia Chomo of Remus, Mich., said she started researching the issue.

“I was surprised at how little data was out there on this issue,” Chomo told Land Line on Thursday, Feb. 26.

She said her brother was complaining of constant headaches while out on the road and was “eating aspirins like crazy,” but his headaches wouldn’t go away. Chomo said his headaches would go away when he was home, but within two days out on the road they would be back.

“When my son went to pick up my brother’s truck, he smelled exhaust fumes in my brother’s truck cab,” she said. “He discovered hundreds of pinholes in an old flex pipe in my brother’s manifold. Exhaust fumes had been leaking out through those pinholes, going through the vents and making my brother sick.”

Chomo said that since her brother’s exhaust system has been fixed, his headaches have disappeared and he is back on the road.

She said while her brother was lucky and the exhaust leak was discovered, other truck drivers are not so fortunate.

As temperatures hovered around 19 degrees in Hope, Ark., in late February, an OOIDA Life Member, Anthony Wayne Azlin, 44, of Etta, Miss., was found dead in his sleeper berth.

Following an autopsy, the Arkansas State Crime Lab determined that Azlin died of carbon monoxide poisoning. At the scene, investigators found a gas-powered portable generator running. The portable generator was mounted under Azlin’s sleeper berth, according to Capt. Frank McJunkins of the Hempstead County’s Sheriff’s Office.

Chomo, who is the secretary of Trucker Charity Inc., says she also handles the Last Ride Home program, which helps arrange transportation for deceased truck drivers.

In the past few years, Chomo said that truck drivers in their 30s and early 40s have been found dead in their trucks. The cause is often ruled as heart attacks, but Chomo suspects some may have died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. However, blood tests must be done to determine whether this is the cause.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning often mimic flu-like symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision and loss of consciousness.

While the UL has standards for RVs, boats and airplanes, Chomo said she has been working with David Mills, principal engineer at the agency, to develop a carbon monoxide external wireless indicator.

“This would be attached to the windshield and would have LED lights attached so if a driver is parked and he’s in his sleeper – and he’s passed out because he’s already been exposed to too much carbon monoxide – those lights will start flashing,” Chomo said.

“We hope that if a driver sees lights flashing, he can call 911 or knock on the driver’s door before it’s too late,” she said.

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