The trouble with carbon monoxide

The trouble with carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) doesn’t discriminate – it sickens or kills anyone in its path. There are about 450 deaths from CO poisoning each year in the U.S. but more than 20,000 reported cases of poisoning from this odorless and colorless killer. According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), CO poisoning is the leading poison-related death in cold, heating-dependent states like Maine and New Hampshire. Gratefully, these deadly events are preventable.

Though many think that CO is heavier than air and sinks to cellars or along the floor, the fact is that it can reach anywhere in your home (64% of incidents) or workplace (22% of incidents). Nearly half of residential poisonings occur at night while you sleep.

What are the causes of CO poisoning?

Malfunctioning fossil-fuel heating systems (natural gas, oil, kerosene) and motor vehicles are the most common causes; chimney vents that are obstructed or broken being the most evident. Also, a hole in the muffler or floorboards can easily overcome a driver before he recognizes the cause. An idling car in the garage is just as deadly – even with the garage door open.

Then there are the oft-told cases of power generators being placed in attached garages (33% of incidents), indoors (15% of incidents) or too close to windows and buildings during power outages. Following Super Storm Sandy, hundreds of senseless cases of CO poisoning were reported as families attempted to stay in their homes using generators to power the lights and heating systems.

Another, though less frequent, cause of poisoning are people who use their outdoor grills indoors or forget their gas-fired fireplace uses a fossil fuel.

NOTE TO ADULT CHILDREN: Check in with your aging parents and conduct the safety review below.

There are three easy steps to remedy these needless events:

  • INSTALL FIRE/CO DETECTORS IN LIVING AREAS ON EVERY LEVEL OF YOUR HOME especially near bedrooms. Change the batteries twice each year (e.g. when clocks are changed for daylight savings).
  • Have all fossil fuel heating systems professionally serviced before each heating season and keep all heating exhaust outlets clear of snow or obstructions.
  • NEVER place a portable generator any closer than 20 feet to a building and never near doors, windows or intake vents.

Warning signs also need to be heeded as the heating season begins. These should not be passed off simply as the start of flu season.

  • Headache
  • Fatigue & weakness
  • Nausea & dizziness
  • Sleepiness & confusion
  • Cold or flu-like symptoms

As only 50% of homeowners have a CO detector in their home, we urge you to visit your hardware department or order online today:

  • Buy and install fire/CO detectors for all your living areas
  • Buy outdoor extension cords greater than 20 feet long and check to see that your generator is ready to run
  • Buy a open-sided canopy to cover your generator if you need shelter for the machine
  • Lay in your supply of batteries and flashlights for the winter

Stay safe this heating season with an ounce of prevention – now.

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