LINKS
2011-03-23 / Front Page

Capping off teens’ inhalant use

By Steve Cook
CONTRIBUTING WRITER


Rusty Lowry, a service tech with Dominion Service Company, Heating & Air Conditioning, installs a locking cap on an HVAC unit at a Providence Road home. 
Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Rusty Lowry, a service tech with Dominion Service Company, Heating & Air Conditioning, installs a locking cap on an HVAC unit at a Providence Road home. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer In September 2006, Charles Gray died in his backyard in Naples, Fla., just three months shy of his 16th birthday. Cause of death: inhaling Freon, which he had obtained by simply unscrewing the cap on his home’s HVAC unit.

As Charles’ mother, Mona Casey, coped with every parent’s worst nightmare, she also decided to turn the tragedy into an opportunity to help save other youngsters from a similar fate. Casey formed an organization, United Parents to Restrict Open Access to Refrigerants (UPROAR), with the mission of helping to “prevent senseless deaths as a result of huffing refrigerant by raising awareness through education, proposing legislative changes and to provide a venue for others to share their experience.”


A close-up of the locking cap 
Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer A close-up of the locking cap Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Almost immediately, SAFE, Chesterfield County’s coalition against drug and alcohol abuse, took up Casey’s charge. As of March 1, all new homes in Virginia must have a refrigerant locking cap on their HVAC systems. SAFE helped advocate for the change in the state’s building code.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done, says Sharyl Adams, substance abuse prevention specialist with the Chesterfield Department of Youth Planning.

“There are thousands of existing units that don’t have locks on the caps,” she said.

Considering that one in five American teens has used inhalants to get high, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, those thousands of unlocked caps throughout the county pose a very real danger.

In an effort to address the issue, Adams has begun contacting area HVAC contractors, soliciting their help in installing caps on existing homes. While letters have been sent to “hundreds of such contractors,” according to Adams, only a handful have responded so far. “But,” she said, “we just began contacting them last week [March 14], so I’m confident we’ll hear from many more.”

Chase Tunnell, president of Dominion Service Company, Heating & Air Conditioning, was quick to offer his support.

“My first reason for responding is that I have a 14-year-old son; that’s the prime age. The thought of him doing something like that never occurred to me,” he said.

After “being educated” on the statistics and the dangers, Tunnell said he and his wife had a talk with their son about inhalant abuse. He also has offered to provide free locking caps to any homeowner throughout his company’s service area, which he said is “from the Blue Ridge to the beach.”

Dominion Service Company is offering both the cap and the labor at no charge to anyone who requests it (see box).

“It’s a very simple process…only takes about a minute to install the cap. We’re urging every homeowner to have a cap installed. Either call us or another contractor with whom you are acquainted. The important thing is to get it done,” Tunnell said.

While there hasn’t been a rash of reports of death or injury due to refrigerant abuse locally, it’s still important to have the lock installed, Adams said.

“If we save just one teen’s life, it’s all worth it.”

HVAC contractors who would like to know more about participating should call Sharyl Adams at 751-4960.

Get your free cap

Local HVAC contractors who are offering to provide the locking caps at no charge include:

• Dominion Service Company, Heating & Air Conditioning, 745-0007, will make a free service call to install the free locking caps.

• James River Air Conditioning (358- 9333), Woodfin (730-5000), Flanagan Heating & Air Conditioning (744-9044) and Hale’s Heating and Air Conditioning (751-0226) will install the free locking caps as part of a maintenance or service call.

Return to top