MAILED: April 13, 2001
EAU CLAIRE Each year carbon monoxide exposure and
explosions from gas leaks are responsible for hundreds of deaths and thousands of
trips to emergency rooms for treatment. Although most of these accidents occur in
homes or motor vehicles, there have been several incidences among outdoor enthusiasts
who use recreational vehicles.
In an effort to prevent this tragedy, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students
and the Eau Claire City-County Health Department have teamed up to inspect RVs,
including towable and motor home units, for elevated carbon monoxide and propane gas leaks. The annual
event, known as the Camper Clinic, is set for Saturday, April 28, from 8 a.m. to
4 p.m. in the Haas Fine Arts parking lot at UW-Eau Claire.
The clinic began nearly 30 years ago and is held the Saturday before opening
fishing weekend, when RVs typically come out of storage and may not be in good
"Environmental health as a rule is
preventative maintenance," said Michael Jensen, an environmental health
specialist with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department and 1979 UW-Eau
Claire graduate. "The purpose of the clinic is to find the problem before it
turns into a bigger problem."
UW-Eau Claire environmental and public health students belonging to the Student
National Environmental Health Association will work with staff from the Eau Claire
City-County Health Department to inspect a variety of RVs, including pick-up campers,
trailers, camping buses and vans. They will test a variety of fuel-burning equipment,
such as stoves, ovens, refrigerators, hot water heaters, interior and exterior
furnace exhaust, and propane tanks.
"Because of the type of activity associated with motor homes — the wear and tear that occurs from driving on or
off road — appliances can jar out of adjustment or gas couplings can loosen, "
Jensen said. "There’s always the potential for the development of gas
leaks or elevated carbon monoxide levels, so it’s a good idea to have your
camper inspected every year."
Last year the team of students and staff
members from the health department inspected 15 campers. They detected five gas
leaks in gas lines or connections that needed repair, adjustment or cleaning of
the burner valves. None of the campers tested for high carbon monoxide levels
inside. However, three campers had elevated carbon monoxide levels in the heat
ducts indicating possible defects in the heat exchanger, and four campers had
elevated levels of carbon monoxide near the oven burners or pilot lights.
Approximately 15 students take part in the event each year, said Dr. Robert
Nelson, professor of environmental health at UW-Eau Claire. "The clinic is a
great experience for our students — it has all the elements of an
environmental health job. Not only does the activity give them hands-on
experience with sampling equipment, it also gives them a chance to deal directly
with the public, answer questions and make recommendations."
Most of the time the campers check out fine, but if even one potentially
deadly problem is detected, we’ve accomplished a lot, said Nelson, who has been
involved with the clinic since 1973. "It’s usually the explosions and accidental
poisonings that make the headlines, but the good news is that many of these
problems are caught before a disaster strikes."
The clinic is free, but donations to SNEHA are welcome. For more information,
contact the Eau Claire City-County Health Department at (715) 839-4718 or Nelson at
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: April 13, 2001