I hate the smell of lighter fluid in the evening
June 28, 2008 7:10 PM   Subscribe

My downstairs neighbors use lighter fluid for their charcoal grill and the fumes fill our condo if we aren't home. What are the specific health hazards of the fumes from charcoal lighter fluid?

The condo I live in has three floors of identical units. We left the sliding glass door that leads to our porch slightly ajar while we went to eat. Our downstairs neighbors have a charcoal grill (not allowed to have propane per condo rules) on their porch directly under ours and I came home from dinner tonight to a house that smells like lighter fluid. It's actually hard to breathe and I got light-headed just running around opening the rest of our windows.

I'd like to buy them a chimney starter as a good will gesture and ask them to stop using the lighter fluid for their grill. I figured it would be good to know the health hazards of the fumes and smoke from the buring fluid before I stomp downstairs and complain, but I'm having a hard time finding information.

Any information for the health risks of inhaling burned lighter fluid fumes would be great.

If you have any advice or experience dealing with downstairs neighbors and their barbeque hazards, those could be useful as well.
posted by bugsoup to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
"Inhalation of butane can cause euphoria, drowsiness, narcosis, asphyxia, cardiac arrhythmia and frostbite, which can result in death from asphyxiation and ventricular fibrillation. Butane is the most commonly misused volatile substance in the UK, and was the cause of 52% of "solvent related" deaths in 2000.[1] By spraying butane directly into the throat, the jet of fluid can cool rapidly to –20 °C by expansion, causing prolonged laryngospasm.[2] "Sudden Sniffer's Death syndrome", first described by Bass in 1970,[3] is the most common single cause of "solvent related" death, resulting in 55% of known fatal cases.[2]"

Butane via Wikipedia
posted by SirStan at 8:45 PM on June 28, 2008

I would definately give them a chimney starter, and perhaps request they try denatured alcohol as a replacement for lighter fluid.
posted by SirStan at 8:47 PM on June 28, 2008

Here is an MSDS for a brand name lighter fluid. It may or may not be the same brand they are using, so the information may not be accurate.The warnings in the MSDS are for industrial and commercial use - it is quite unlikely that you've received the exposure to the lighter fluid that would cause the major symptoms. Another resource for you is the national poison hotline - 1-800-222-1222 - if you have gotten a major dose, they will help you.
posted by Drama Penguin at 8:49 PM on June 28, 2008

You could also approach them from a quality-control standpoint.

Lighter fluid affects the taste and smell of food, making it unpleasant. Using a chimney starter instead of lighter fluid makes a huge difference. The food will taste better and they will spend less money on lighter fluid.
posted by Ostara at 10:41 PM on June 28, 2008

SirStan, butane ain't lighter fluid. It's a gas used in cigarette lighters. Most lighter fluids are liquid petroleum distillates, fancy term for leftovers from distilling crude, kinda like what makes it into the hot dogs from the slaughterhouse. Generally speaking for effects on humans, you can consider it a slightly more friendly version of gasoline vapor. Which is to say not all that friendly.

Bugsoup, out of curiosity, do you know why your condo banned propane in favor of charcoal? Most places I know it's the other way around due to how incredibly easy it is to start an uncontrolled fire by a charcoal grill getting knocked over...
posted by barc0001 at 11:54 PM on June 28, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the answers so far.

@SirStan, I think barc0001 said what I was thinking about butane. As for denatured alcohol, I hadn't heard of that being used for starting charcoal. Do you have experience using it?

@Drama Penguin, I forgot about the MSDS. I'll be sure and print that page out for the neighbors.

@Ostara, Quality control is another good point. I've been using a chimney starter personally for that exact reason and I'm be sure and mention it to the neighbors. Although, the one who does the grilling is a heavy smoker of cigarettes so maybe he likes the taste of chemicals.

@barc0001, I think the condo board banned propane because the manager insisted it was too dangerous to carry and store. Only five people are on the board and the manager (who I've called the condo Nazi for his tactics of intimidation about enforcing rules) is generally very influential when it comes down to voting (he also gets one of those five votes and is effectively the tie breaker). He's the type that will get in your face about having too many flags or your porch at the 4th of July. None of the other residents have the guts to stand up to him.

I also think the rule is backwards, but I don't own the unit I'm in so I wouldn't have any say in the voting if I wanted to change a rule.
posted by bugsoup at 5:56 AM on June 29, 2008

Are you sure they're even allowed to use a grill on the deck at all? In the City of Boston (and Brookline) your not allowed to have grill on a wooden deck.
posted by zaphod at 8:29 AM on June 29, 2008

My thought is in line with zaphod's - check your city code. My current and previous cities both have codes requiring grills(propane or charcoal) to be a minimum distance from any building, including eaves and overhangs.
posted by owtytrof at 7:29 AM on June 30, 2008

Response by poster: I hadn't thought that the town might have additional restrictions. That's something I should look into. Thanks.
posted by bugsoup at 8:39 AM on July 1, 2008

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