Letter: Questions about ventless fireplace

From: Noel Taylor


“The king” was a friend of mine. We met in a group every Saturday for breakfast. That winter he shared with the group his pleasure with his new ventless fireplace — how it saved him money and kept the house toasty warm, and how he didn’t need to use his furnace anymore.

Later that winter as he led the group, he started speaking gibberish, something which clearly confused even him. When I saw one side of his mouth droop, I interrupted, saying, “We’re going to the hospital.” As I drove him there, he confided that he had found tying his shoes unusually difficult getting dressed that morning.

ER doctors checked him out thoroughly. No clot. No brain bleed. Their diagnosis was transient ischemic attack (TIA), and they sent him home. He never fully recovered, often having great difficulty finding words. For example, if he couldn’t find “pilot” he would say “railroad captain” instead. In fact, the only times that he spoke as if nothing had ever happened was when he prayed.

The king has passed on to join the King of Kings now, but I’ve never forgotten that morning. I still believe that what I witnessed was blood vessel constriction in his brain, but medical wisdom says that carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide can’t do that, and his detector never went off, so I’ve looked into the matter further.

Natural gas itself, primarily methane, contains impurities and additives including radon and other radioactive materials, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and organometallic compounds such as methylmercury, organoarsenic and organolead. Studies have shown asthma and other respiratory problems to be increased in people who cook with natural gas as compared to those who cook on electric stoves.

Gas companies add mercaptan to give the odorless methane they sell that distinctive rotten egg odor, and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services posts this warning: “Breathing ethyl mercaptan can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, convulsions and tiredness. Higher levels can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, coma and death.”

Finally, burning that combination of ingredients produces, among other things, sulfur dioxide, an EPA-listed irritant that can cause vasoconstriction — like the king’s TIA. I don’t think I’m going to invest in a ventless fireplace any time soon.