Anti-Inhalant Abuse Campaign Targets Building Codes; 'Huffing' of Air Conditioning Refrigerant a Dangerous Risk
Harris, Catharine, The Nation's Health
FOR DANA Prothro, Thanksgiving 2007 was a nightmare. Returning home from work, she was eager to see her daughter Erica, who had just returned from college for Thanksgiving break. Instead, she found her lying on the floor. At 19 years old, Erica had died suddenly after inhaling refrigerant from their home air conditioning unit.
Erica's story is far too common in the United States. In fact, a new report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition at a Washington, D.C., news conference in March revealed that more than 1 million youth tried inhalants last year, though there is no exact statistic on refrigerant abuse.
Inhaling refrigerants is by no means a new phenomenon, declining in popularity several years ago, Mona Casey, founder of United Parents to Restrict Open Access to Refrigerant, told The Nation's Health.
However, the practice is now back and on the rise, especially among 12- to 17-year-olds, she said. Often, the Internet allows youth to learn how to acquire refrigerant from the air conditioning units outside their homes, or young people learn about "huffing" from their older counterparts, Casey said. The piece of information that is often left out, though, is that huffing can be deadly upon first use.
This is a fact that Pro-thro is now all too familiar with. After the death of her daughter, she joined Casey's advocacy group in the fight to curb the dangerous youth trend by calling for a change in building codes. Recently, the group was successful in changing widely used commercial building codes to recommend placing locking caps on the outside refrigerant access points of air conditioner units. The group is now campaigning for states to adopt the model code and encouraging the International Code Council, which develops commercial building codes, to endorse the retrofitting of old air conditioning systems as well.
"I am here on behalf of my 19-year-old daughter, Erica, and all those who have lost a life from the nature of this dangerous toxic chemical refrigerant," Prothro said at the news conference. …