Keeping safe from Carbon Monoxide

Selina Eglesias
ECB Publishing, Inc.

On average, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, 170 people in the United States die every year from carbon monoxide (CO) produced by non-automotive consumer products, including fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water and room heaters; engine-powered equipment like generators; fireplaces and charcoal that is burned in homes and other enclosed areas. CO is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas produced by various fuels. CO can come from the burning of coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas. Lawn mowers, portable generators, cars and power washers also produce CO. Although CO is described as “the invisible killer,” there are some steps that can be taken to keep safe from CO poisoning. Recognizing the symptoms of CO poisoning is one of the most important steps to take as some people might not be aware of exposure to CO. The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu, but without the fever. Some symptoms include: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. High level CO poisoning results in more severe symptoms such as mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscle coordination, loss of consciousness and death. The symptoms of CO poisoning vary by CO concentration and length of exposure, as well as each individual's health condition. CO concentration is measured in parts per million (ppm). At 1 to 70 ppm, most people will not experience any symptoms of CO poisoning, but those with heart issues may experience chest pains. As CO levels remain above 70 ppm, headache, nausea and fatigue may occur. At CO concentrations above 15- to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness and death are possible. Some tips for staying safe from CO poisoning are:

• Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer's instructions and local building codes.

• Have the heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.

• Always refer to the owners manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.

• Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space.

• Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL 2034 safety standard in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Make sure the alarm cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.

• Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.

• Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.

• Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.

• Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.

• Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.

• Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil.

• During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.

Never ignore a CO alarm. Do not try and find the source of the CO. Move outside to fresh air and contact emergency services. If you or someone you know think you might be experience any symptoms of CO poisoning, get outside and breathe fresh air immediately and leave your home, as you could die or lose consciousness if you stick around. Report your symptoms to the fire department from a friend or neighbor's home. It is also crucial to contact a doctor for a proper diagnosis immediately after the incident occurs.