Each year more than 500 people nationwide die from accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and more than 15,000 Americans are treated at hospitals for accidental exposure to CO, according to the Center For Disease Control. As we move into the heating season, now is the time to remind people in your community about the dangers of carbon monoxide and how they can protect themselves from this avoidable hazard.
Often referred to as the “silent killer,” CO is colorless, odorless and tasteless and can be produced when home appliances are not operating or venting properly. To protect against CO poisoning, make sure all fuel-burning appliances are properly installed and maintained. Furnaces should be cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified service technician. Venting on furnaces, water heaters and chimneys also should be inspected periodically to be sure that animal nests or other debris don’t interfere with proper ventilation.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by the incomplete combustion of fuels including oil, propane, natural gas, coal, wood, kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel and charcoal. Faulty or inadequately vented appliances that use these fuels such as furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters as well as gasoline-powered vehicles can produce deadly amounts of carbon monoxide.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning often mimic the flu, and include headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, stinging or burning of the eyes. Higher concentrations can result in unconsciousness, coma and death. Small children, the elderly and pets are particularly susceptible to CO.
The best defenses against carbon monoxide problems include the purchase and installation of an audible carbon monoxide alarm approved by the Underwriters Laboratory. This alarm will sound if dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are present in a home or building.