The “silent killer,” as it’s often called. is no joke. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that blocks oxygen to the brain. It only takes four to six minutes of no oxygen for a person to faint or die.
Carbon monoxide poisoning kills more than 400 people in the U.S. each year and sickens thousands more (1). Anything that burns fossil fuels emits CO. It’s produced by stoves, heating systems, burning charcoal and wood, lanterns, vehicles, and anything else that runs on gas. Enclosed spaces cause CO to buildup, making the air potentially deadly to anyone who breathes it.
You won’t know it’s coming until it is too late, but you can protect your family by taking precautions.
Install CO detectors in every bedroom and on each floor. Make sure the detectors have a battery for when the power goes out. That’s when you’ll be using those portable furnaces and generators which produce the poisonous gas. Set a time at least twice a year to check the batteries in your CO detectors, such as during daylight saving time.
Have your furnace inspected every year by a certified technician to make sure there are no cracks or leaks in the pipes. They will also check the air fans, filters and burners.
If your refrigerator’s cooling unit is giving off a funny smell have it inspected. The cooling unit might have a defect or it could be giving off CO.
Check all vents that lead outside to make sure nothing is blocking gas from escaping. This includes fireplace chimneys, clothes dryer vents, and other flues.
Only use generators outside and keep them at least 25 feet away from your home. Make sure there are no openings that would allow the exhaust to enter your home. Never use a generator inside your garage even if the doors and windows are open. (2)
Don’t use catalytic heaters indoors. These types of heaters run off chemicals such as propane, butane or naphtha. There’s no flame, but they burn gas and can cause CO to build up in enclosed spaces. Same goes for a gas camp stove or barbecue grill – keep them outside.
Never use a gas range or oven to heat your house.
Don’t run a vehicle inside a garage that’s attached to your house, even if the door is open. This is a big concern for mechanics who run the car frequently in the garage, causing gases to leak into the home.
Symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to those of the flu (without the fever): headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, confusion, chest pain, vomiting. If you notice these symptoms while inside immediately open the doors to let in fresh air and get out of the house.
Be sure to educate your entire family on the dangers of carbon monoxide so you can stay safe together.