Carbon monoxide is an invisible, colorless, odorless, tasteless, flammable, and highly poisonous gas. Also known as CO, carbon monoxide is found in fumes produced by fuel in cars, trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, and furnaces. CO can build up indoors and poses a danger to people and animals who breathe it. Symptoms of CO poisoning may include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pains and more. It is dangerous as it displaces oxygen in the blood, and deprives the heart, brain, and organs of oxygen. It can also cause permanent brain damage or death. What’s important to know is that CO poisoning is preventable. Here are some wise preventative measures folks can take:
- Have a detector in your home that can alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide. The International Association of Fire Chiefs recommends a carbon monoxide detector on every level of a home, including the basement. Additionally, a detector should be located within 10 feet of each bedroom door and one near or over any attached garage. Note that there are different types of CO detectors available on the market. You’ll want to select detectors that are easy to install, low maintenance, effective, long lasting, and feature loud alarms. It’s handy to have monitors with built-in LCD or LED displays that show CO levels. Some are even smart-home compatible. For plug-in models, choose those with battery back-up. Each detector should be examined and tested regularly and replaced every five to six years or sooner per manufacturer’s recommendations. Avoid placing them in bathrooms, drafty areas, or in direct sunlight that can impact how they function.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend having your heating system, water heater and other gas, oil, wood, or coal burning appliances serviced by qualified technicians every year. This includes gas water heaters, gas stoves, gas clothes dryers and more. They also recommend keeping vents and flues free of debris that can block ventilation lines.
- If a fire is burning in a fireplace that has an obstructed chimney, CO build up is possible. Fireplaces, woodstoves, and chimneys are sources of CO poisoning and must be monitored for safety and serviced as needed. Fireplace flues must be open.
- Never leave a motor vehicle running in a garage or in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a detached garage or carport, even if the garage door is open. Also, regular inspection and maintenance of vehicle exhaust systems are recommended. If your garage is attached to your home, close the door to the house before backing out. Do not warm up the car inside the garage.
- Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or enclosed structure. Generators should be kept outside and set up at least 20 feet from your house. Additionally, never use a grill, lantern, hibachi, or portable camp stoves inside a home, tent, or camper, even if windows are open.
- Do NOT use gas stove tops or ovens for supplemental heating.
- Do not run a gas-powered lawnmower in an enclosed space.
- Note that CO poisoning can happen on or near boats. Avoid swimming under the back deck or swim platforms where CO can build up near exhaust vents. Schedule regular engine and exhaust system maintenance.
- Some space heaters use kerosene or natural gas for fuel and must only be used in well-ventilated areas. They should also be used strictly according to manufacturer’s instructions and checked yearly by professionals. Newer models likely have oxygen sensors whereas older models likely do not. Due to safety concerns, some states have placed bans on unvented fuel-burning space heaters. Never use or store flammable liquids around space heaters. Note that electrical space heaters pose no danger of CO poisoning and are generally safer to use.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is clear. Carbon monoxide poisoning can’t be seen, can’t be smelled, can’t be heard, but it can be stopped. A CO detector is your best line of defense. Have an evacuation plan for emergencies and avoid prolonged exposure to CO. If you believe you or other family members are experiencing CO poisoning, be calm and exit. Get into fresh air immediately. Then call 911. If you cannot get people out of the home, if safely possible open all windows and doors, and turn off all combustion appliances (gas stoves, water heaters, furnaces, boilers, etc.) Call 911 immediately.