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Does the use of kerosene, propane, or natural gas heaters cause health problems?

Posted on 2006-11-22
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I've asked this before and got general answers. I am looking for documented proof that kerosene causes emphysema and/or other health risk.
Same for natural gas or propane. My father is insisting that I give up my kerosene space heater and get a thermostat controlled gas heater. Cost, etc. are not the issues. The only issues are which of the above three heat sources cause what health problems.
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This is really the ultimate reason not to use kerosene, gas, propane heaters.  Carbon Monoxide is a Killer.
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ok, I have a carbon monoxide detector. So, I still want to see written evidence by some government agency or medical society that addresses the risk of all three, specifically kerosene. My father says it causes emphysema. I once sent an e-mail to the liung cancer association and the american cancer society and got no answer.
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Off top of head, Natural Gas for heating/cooking is deadly, having molecules of Nitrogen with Oxygen, and causes people to be more 'slow' when competing educationally.

I recall a Q here on kerosene, maybe that was the one referring to the molecules of Carbon with Oxygen. Obviously not breathable.

I had heard that propane is clean. Maybe it was an ad. Maybe it only cleaner.

What about coal, or fuel oil, or fireplace or electric?

Or ... how much room you got, room for furnace? How about a 55 gal drum. Some have converted drums to be wood (or coal?) burners. It helps to have a basement.

Checkout the documentation that comes with space heaters, perhaps something like "make sure one window is cracked open an inch" to let out the killer fumes.

As to emphysema, the only people I knew got that were not only heavy smokers, did not use electric heat, and had jobs where they were exposed to numerous noxious fumes. People in foundries, fire fighters, and the like.
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by:☠ MASQ ☠
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Nitrogen dioxide is the emphysema/bronchitis risk factor - your father is correct.  The cause is much the same, poor ventilation.
Your earlier Q (http:Q_22013040.html) covered most of this but as far as medical references go kerosene is the worst for health
http://thorax.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/53/11/939.
But all will cause problems if they are not maintained or ventilated adequately.
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After a quick look at the following, I think a link was made between Leukemia and use of natural gas.

Nitrous Oxide and OSHA (extracts)

http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/healthguidelines/nitrousoxide/recognition.html

Formula: N(2)O

Use as a leak detecting agent on natural gas pipelines

3. Hazardous decomposition products: Toxic gases (such as carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen) may be released in a fire involving nitrous oxide.

Synonyms

Dinitrogen monoxide, factitious air, hyponitrous acid anhydride, laughing gas, nitrogen oxide

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not currently regulate nitrous oxide.

Summary of toxicology

2. Effects on Humans: Nitrous oxide is an asphyxiant at high concentrations. At lower concentrations, exposure causes central nervous system, cardiovascular, hepatic, hematopoietic, and reproductive effects in humans [Hathaway et al. 1991]. At a concentration of 50 to 67 percent (500,000 to 670,000 ppm) nitrous oxide is used to induce anesthesia in humans [Rom 1992]. Patients exposed to a 50:50 mixture of nitrous oxide:oxygen for prolonged periods to induce continuous sedation developed bone marrow depression and granulocytopenia [Hathaway et al. 1991; ACGIH 1991]. Although most patients recover, several deaths from aplastic anemia have been reported [Hathaway et al. 1991]. Neurotoxic effects occur after acute exposure to concentrations of 80,000 to 200,000 ppm and above; effects include slowed reaction times and performance decrements [Hathaway et al. 1991]. Long-term occupational exposure (dentists, dental assistants) has been associated with numbness, difficulty in concentrating, paresthesias, and impairment of equilibrium [Hathaway et al. 1991; ACGIH 1991]. In one study, exposure to 50 ppm nitrous oxide was associated with a decrement in audiovisual performance, but this result has not been duplicated in other studies [ACGIH 1991]. Epidemiological studies, primarily of operating room personnel, have shown increased risks of spontaneous abortion, premature delivery, and involuntary infertility among these occupationally exposed populations [ACGIH 1991; Hathaway et al. 1991].
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MASQUERAID > references go kerosene is the worst for health

My recollection of media & kerosene is of occasionally burning down one's own home. That cannot be very healthy, all those fumes if still in bed throughout.

Natural gas and its leaks more often lead to evacuation of premises.

LP gas (propane) may just not be popular enough for similar coverage by media
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nickg5 > ok, I have a carbon monoxide detector ... My father says it causes emphysema.

hmm, interesting that all BUT natural gas does CO. From the links, it looks like all the burners are not managed well, maintained well, and that can lead to cancers probably because of the environment and extra moisture.  Got a dehumidifier? Got stock in a major electric company? (sometimes they are the ones funding a study)

I dunno emphysema specifically (yet) but a part of answer can be the neighborhood you live in as well, such as for what might be already in and under the soil near your home. As I recall that i the deal with radon, it is just not everywhere, but more prevalent in some areas, such as the more hilly or mountainous.

http://www.ehponline.org/docs/1999/107-7/focus.html

There are dozens of potential environmental health hazards in the home but the most dangerous are combustion gases. Oil- and gas-fired furnaces, water heaters, ovens, wood stoves, charcoal grills, and fireplaces all produce combustion gases. These gases may include carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, sulfur dioxide, water vapor, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, and various hydrocarbons.

By far the most hazardous of these is CO. In 1997, the American Association of Poison Control Centers' Toxic Exposure Surveillance System reported 20,930 cases of CO poisoning from all known sources, including 191 life-threatening cases and 37 fatalities. CO is formed when a carbon-containing fuel such as kerosene, charcoal, wood, or gasoline, is incompletely burned. Natural gas in the United States does not contain carbon, but CO may form if the gas is burned without an adequate air supply

The problem with kerosene space heaters is that they are unvented; thus, they dump all their combustion by-products into the living space. A study by Ron Williams, a former senior research associate with Environmental Health Research and Testing in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, published in the September/October 1992 issue of Indoor Environment (the former journal of the International Association for Indoor Air Quality), found that the use of unvented kerosene heaters in mobile homes caused a significant rise in indoor CO concentrations, sometimes in excess of the U.S. air exposure standard of 9 parts per million (ppm) CO over an eight-hour period

 critics say it is unreasonable to assume that all or even most of these appliances will be properly sized, used only for supplemental heating, and provided with sufficient makeup air. In a recent study by the Manufactured Housing Research Alliance, 7 of 12 manufactured homes using ventless kerosene heaters and 4 of 7 homes using liquid propane heaters were out of compliance with American National Standards Institute emission rate standards for CO. The study, titled Manufactured Housing Fuel Switching Field Test Study, also found that in five homes the owners operated their vented gas fireplace logs with the damper closed in order to "get more heat" out of the gas logs

Hidden Hazards

Radon. Radon, a colorless, odorless gas found to varying degrees in soil and subsurface water, is a pollutant that has received a great deal of attention in recent years. The EPA estimates that radon pollution is responsible for up to 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year.

Lead and asbestos. Two other materials, lead and asbestos, may be a problem in older homes.

http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/combustf.htm

Check out Table 1 [not CO]

POLLUTANT - PARTICLES (PM10)

DESCRIPTION - Small Inhalable Particles

HEALTH EFFECTS

Nose, Throat and Eye
Irritation, Emphysema,
Bronchitis, Allergies,
Asthma, Respiratory and
Ear Infections, Lung Cancer

SOURCES

Tobacco Smoke, Woodburning,
Kerosene Heaters, Charcoal
Grills, Incense Burning,
House Dust, Hobbies,
Polluted Outdoor Air
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Sunbow
- Nitrous Oxide (N2O - "Laughing gas") is pretty inert and used for testing pipework (but also mixed with oxygen and inhaled for pain/anxiety relief!)
- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is the by-product of kerosene combustion (& is the really nasty one!)
They are two very different gases
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by:The--Captain
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You need to break this down a little better - I'm thinking *any* space heater that burns anything as a source of heat is less healthy than a whole-house furnace that would burn the same material - a simple example:  You can't use one of those standalone woodburning firepits indoors because they would suffocate you (not to mention the fire hazard), but you *can* burn the same materials in a properly installed fireplace with a chimney with no problem.

The problem is not really with the gasses generated, but with removing them from your local envrionment - a space heater doesn't have a smokestack that connects it to an exterior vent - house furnaces (no matter what they burn) generally do incorporate such ventilation, unless they don't burn anything at all [are electric].

So, if your heating system has adequate support for removal of offending gasses, there's probably not too much difference on which fuel source you use - if your heater does not ventilate gasses it generates, it's probably worth avoiding...

If you're looking for anecdotes, I can tell you that I hate kerosene space heaters - they have *always* winded up giving me a splitting headache for as long as I can remember (maybe I'm more sensitive to noxious gas ;-).  I've not really found much difference in central heating solutions that ventilate generated gasses - I would mention that propane seems rather equivalent to natural gas (methane) for most situations in which I've seen it deployed, but it's really only used if you can't get access to a municipal natural gas feed.  My folks down home on the farm used to have a monster propane tank in the back yard, until the gas company started offering local rural connections.

My advice?  Ditch any space heaters that produce unventilated toxic gasses - buy space heaters (typically electric) that do not produce unwanted/unventilated gasses, or go with a central heating solution that ventilates unwanted gasses to the outdoors.  My house uses a natural gas furnace, which requires a stack that ventilates the CO byproduct of the methane burn out of a chimney...  I have a CO detector next to the furnace, which generates a very audible alarm if the stack is clogged or if any other circumstance arises in which I get a buildup of toxic gas...

Hope that helps,
-Jon



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I still have the same question that needs answering from some reliable source. Does the use of a floor kerosene space heater cause emphysema. My father says yes, I say I want proof. I've been using it for 20 years, maybe 8 hours a day for 5 months a year.
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by:RDAdams
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Although I don't see anything that states directly that your heater will cause emphysema, the documentation does say that if your heater is not properly maintained it could lead to emphysema over time.  So there is documented proof that heaters such as these can cause problems, not that the definitively will!

Are you having issues?  Is your heater maintained?  

Your health is what is at risk and any others who live with you.  Only you can answer if the risk is too great.



http://www.ehealthmd.com/library/Emphysema/EMP_causes.html

http://lungdiseases.about.com/od/riskfacto2/a/causes_emphyse.htm

http://www.repp.org/repp_pubs/articles/issuebr6/issuebr6h.html
http://www.healthgoods.com/education/Healthy_Home_Information/Indoor_Air_Quality/indoor_air_pollution.htm
http://painworld.org/spaceheaters.htm
http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/463.html
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I live alone
The carbon monoxide detector only goes off when the "ancient" space heater is in the same room as the carbon monoxide detector. I sleep with no heat except electric blanket (causes cancer?) so no risk of K-1 while sleeping. I do not change the wick regularly.
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I would say there is some risk.  If your heater is not a newer version and doesn't get serviced regularly.  But as I stated only you can make the decision as to the level of your risk.  Are you experiencing any health issues, coughing etc, dry eyes, palid complexion etc.  that would or could be associated with your choice of heating?  This would be a chance to think about and monitor your specific position.  
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I have electric heat but can not afford $250 a month bills.
It is a mobile home and hard to heat, so I sit two feet from the heater, in my desk chair, when I am here. Once warm I turn it down low, so I assume low fumes instead of high fumes? I have a curtain that blocks off the main room from the hallway and bedroom. There is no ventiliation at all in the room in which I use the heater except the few inches under the curtain, but beoynd there, there is no ventilation except minor air passages around the windows. My father is doing everything but holding a gun to my head to switch to gas. My winter heating bill will go up. Gas is not as efficient as K-1 and cost more right now also.
I don't like going to his house in the winter. It is cold in there. He likes 67 degrees, I prefer 80. He tries to keep his gas bill down I assume. Also the gas people come once a month to fill the tank. I do not want that, I want it filled at my request.
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>>>so I assume low fumes instead of high fumes
Not necessarily, older equipment does not tend to give off less when operating at low volume.  

The rest is personal choice.  Good luck in whichever choice you make.  
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by:ch2
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Couldn't find any fiable document related to this. This must be confidential because almost everyone use one of these fuels.

What You Should Know About Combustion Appliances and Indoor Air Pollution

http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/452.html

What are the health effects of combustion pollutants?

The health effects of combustion pollutants range from headaches and breathing difficulties to death. The health effects may show up immediately after exposure or occur after being exposed to the pollutants for a long time. The effects depend upon the type and amount of pollutants and the length of time of exposure to them. They also depend upon several factors related to the exposed person. These include the age and any existing health problems. There are still some questions about the level of pollutants or the period of exposure needed to produce specific health effects. Further studies to better define the release of pollutants from combustion appliances and their health effects are needed.

<< Further studies to better define the release of pollutants from combustion appliances and their health effects are needed.
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Kerosene is a more complex fuel than natural gas or propane in that its molecules are "larger" and there is probably a fraction that is "aromatic carbohydrates". The combustion products are probably proportionally complex... where propane or Natural gas leave only CO2 and H2O, even a slightly misadjustment of a kerosene burner may cause aromatics in the exhaust as well. I'm not too sure about the NOx content; N is fairly inert and doesn't combine with O unless temp and pressure is high, like in an engine. For an open-air burner, well, anyone knows for certain there'll be nitrous gasses?

The effect on the human body of any compound is unpredictable. You'll have smokers that live until 80+ and non smokers dying of respiratory malfunction at 50. I'd be prepared to say there's a considerable element of chance. The largerst impact is probably smoking and car/lawn mower engine exhaust pollution...
/RID
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MASQUERAID > Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is the by-product of kerosene combustion (& is the really nasty one!) They are two very different gases
OSHA > 3. Hazardous decomposition products: Toxic gases (such as carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen) may be released in a fire involving nitrous oxide.

Not a chemist, I presume (or remember) that it is not the gas fumes itself that has the nasties, it is the nature of how the fires are made. And some of this may apply to smokers. The level of toxicity must be low, meaning it does not kill outright, and may, in low dosage, have to combine with other factors over longer periods to have specific dis-ease association.

The kerosene issue is also linked to alternatives to only consideration of normal heating arrangement. Apparently a link to emphysema has or had been made to kerosene, were it ingested, consumed in quantity rather than burned. The burning is apparently more a catalyst agent if other carcinogens and chemicals are within the vicinity awaiting release and activation. Ingestion can occur in place like Riyadh where poor ignorants may place spare kerosene in drinking utensils, policy not understood by youngest children when thirsty.

Possibly your relative had read something about such children, so you can tell him you are not yet so senile to drink it.

nickg5 > I sleep with no heat except electric blanket (causes

Add thicker blankets? I like not much woolen, but a good afghan, quilt(s), OK pile 'em high. I also like sweaters, but concern over arthritis. We can add additional clothing, be eskimos, but when it comes to heat, there's only so much that you can take off (clothes). So my personality is closer to your fathers. 80 is too high, overheats my head, while the more it under it is from 70, the less my fingers will work.

Think too of heat storage, such as use of bricks. Have some near heater, maybe heat up some that can be taken to bed with you (by footer, not at head thank you much).

> It is a mobile home and hard to heat,

That also tends to mean ventilated, whether you want it so or not. I would still recommend some form of additional ventilation, get some air into the place, such as the cracking a nearby window while first firing up your burners. Depending maybe on how cold it gets outside, closing the window later, especially when reducing heat, ought to be good enough. Possibly entering and leaving the igloo is sufficient to transfer in some more of that seasonally freshened air.

Computers are still finicky, preferring room temperature. Things like CD HD DVD may fail when too hot or too cold. They do not seem to mind small particles as much as they used to.

nickg5 > so I sit two feet from the heater, in my desk chair, when I am here. Once warm I turn it down low, so I assume

So I assume it is not that bad. Bad idea to be close, but where you are not getting prompt headache and manage the levels of fuels consumption, my guess is it cannot really be that bad, can it?

> I've been using it for 20 years, maybe 8 hours a day for 5 months a year.

That is very long time. Long life for equipment, but pretty good proof that it cannot be that bad if it has not killed you yet, and you've not major health issue. Exercise. Do you run? Get them joints limbered up before settling in next to heater?

The--Captain , I agree with most of that, including the headache problem I prefer to avoid.

http://www.archaeologics.com/Health-DtoH/Emphysema.php

Emphysema is commonly associated with chronic bronchitis and as it is rather difficult to delineate "pure" cases of emphysema or chronic bronchitis they are classed together into chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(COPD).
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