Out of sight, out of mind? Not for carbon monoxide

Picture of car exhaust pipe.

Carbon monoxide (CO) – also known as “the silent killer” – is an odorless, colorless gas you can’t see or smell. It claims more than 400 lives every year and is the number one cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the U.S.1 It also hospitalizes 4,000 people and causes 20,000 trips to the emergency room for treatment.2

It’s produced by burning fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, portable generators or furnaces. When CO builds up in enclosed spaces, people or animals who breathe it in can be poisoned. And ventilation doesn’t guarantee protection.

So, how can you protect yourself and your loved ones from CO poisoning? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Safety Council offer these tips.

  • Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
  • Place your CO detector where it will wake you up if it alarms, such as outside your bedroom.
  • Consider buying a detector with a digital readout, which can tell you the level of CO concentration in your home.
  • Replace your CO detector every five years.
  • Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do not use portable, flameless chemical heaters indoors.
  • If you have a gas refrigerator, and it’s producing an odor, have it serviced by an expert because it could be leaking CO.
  • Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly.
  • Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year.
  • Never use a gas range or oven to heat your home.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors.
  • Never use a generator inside your home, basement, garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent.
  • Have a mechanic check the exhaust system of your car or truck every year.
  • Never run a car in a garage that is attached to a house, even with the garage door open.
  • If you’re running a car inside a detached garage, always open the door to let in fresh air.

It’s also important to know the symptoms of CO poisoning. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu without the fever and can include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. High levels of CO poisoning can result in mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and ultimately death.

If your CO detector alarms, you should immediately move outside to fresh air, call the fire department, emergency services or 9-11, and do not re-enter the premises until emergency responders have given you permission to do so.

1. https://www.firstalert.com/us/en/safetycorner/carbon-monoxide-safety-tips/
2. cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm

Visit the HMConnection page to read more articles.

WBTL-0793 (Nov. 19)

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