Carbon Monoxide

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Each year in America, unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning claims more than 500 lives and sends another 15,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

What is Carbon Monoxide and my risk?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a flammable, colorless, odorless, tasteless toxic gas produced during incomplete combustion of fuel - natural gas, oil, coal, wood, kerosene, etc. Everyone is at risk of CO poisoning, and because it has no smell, no taste, and no color, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. Sources of CO in and around your home include charcoal grills, gas-fired appliances, fireplaces, water heaters, space heaters, wood-burning stoves and furnaces, and motor vehicles.

At lower levels of exposure, CO results in symptoms that are very similar to the common flu and/or a cold, which include headaches, tiredness, nausea and sometime shortness of breath. Higher levels present the same symptoms, but are more severe, like disorientation, severe headaches and nausea, dizziness, fainting and fatigue, and even unconsciousness and/or death.

If you are suffering from chronic flu-like symptoms, see a doctor immediately and ask if it could be CO poisoning. CO poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Over 1,500 people die annually due to carbon monoxide, and 10,000 seek medical attention, all of which from accidental exposure.

What actions do I take if my carbon monoxide alarm goes off?

First thing, you need to ask yourself "is anyone feeling ill or not"? The following step can assist you on how to proceed...

If no one is feeling ill:

  1. Silence the alarm.
  2. Turn off all appliances and sources of combustion (i.e. furnace and fireplace)
  3. Ventilate the house with fresh air by opening doors and windows.
  4. Call a qualified professional to investigate the source of the possible CO buildup.

If illness is a factor:

  1. Evacuate all occupants immediately.
  2. Determine how many occupants are ill and determine their symptoms.
  3. Call you local emergency number and when relaying information to the dispatcher, include the number of people feeling ill.
  4. Do not re-enter the home without the approval of a fire department representative.
  5. Call a qualified professional to repair the source of the CO.

Steps to protect yourself and your family from CO poisoning

  • Install at least one UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms. Carbon monoxide alarms measure levels of CO over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms. It is very possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear the alarm. This does not mean that CO is not present.
  • Have a qualified professional check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, venting and chimney systems at least once a year.
  • Never use your range or oven to help heat your home and never use a charcoal grill or hibachi in your home or garage.
  • Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.
  • When purchasing an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house. The presence of a carbon monoxide alarm in your home can save your life in the event of CO buildup.

(USFA, Web/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/HomeSafe/FEMA)