Stupid ways to die in the mountains

Irene Shonle, CSU Extension. Gilpin County.  While many people think that if you die in the mountains, it will come from causes like avalanches or car crashes, there are many other ways that people can die, and some of them are entirely preventable (making it a stupid way to die.)

1. The first way is to not deal with your ashes properly.  Firefighters are constantly being called to put out house fires caused by people putting hot ashes in a metal bucket out on their wood deck. Always wait until the ashes are completely cool to the touch before putting them outside, or at least put them on something completely non-flammable and use a lid.

2. Which brings me to the second way: not installing smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. Without these inexpensive life-saving devices, you could easily die in your sleep, either from being engulfed by flames or from carbon monoxide (CO). This odorless gas can be produced by any fuel-consuming appliance (especially those that don’t vent to the outdoors).  Examples include faulty furnaces or heaters, back-drafting wood-burning stoves, blocked chimneys, motor vehicle exhaust, and propane-fueled equipment such as portable camping stoves being used improperly indoors.

While high levels of CO can kill you within minutes, lower levels are still problematic.  Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health. At moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. Over days, weeks, or months, this exposure could kill. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not realize that CO poisoning could be the cause. With a CO detector, you would know for sure.

3. The third way is to not test your home for radon. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon is produced when rocks such as granite naturally break down into uranium over time. Gilpin and mountainous Boulder Counties have a large component of granite in the soils, so the potential for radon is high. The average reading up here is 10.3 pCi/L, which is well over twice the acceptable limit, and many houses have a much higher level.  The risk of cancer at this level of exposure is equivalent to a 2 pack-a-day smoker. The risk for smokers is much higher than that, since the risk is compounded.

Given all the many ways that we already have to worry about dying, we can all scratch these three off the list if we just take care of these simple things.

The CSU Gilpin County Extension Office is located at the Exhibit Barn, 230 Norton Drive, Black Hawk, CO 80422, 303-582-9106, Colorado State University Extension provides unbiased, research-based information about, horticulture, natural resources, and 4-H youth development. Colorado State University Extension is dedicated to serving all people on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis.