Every year, hundreds of unsuspecting people are killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Known by the molecular formula CO, it can’t be seen or smelled, but at high levels can be fatal within minutes.
The deadly gas is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned.
In home appliances that burn fuel and are not working properly, CO can escape and prove hazardous. Hundreds of people are killed every year from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances, many times in their sleep.
If a gas from your furnace or stove shows flickers of yellow instead of blue, the appliance may be exuding carbon monoxide.
At moderate levels, CO can produce severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea, or fainting. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches.
If you think you are experiencing symptoms that could be from CO poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Open windows and doors, turn off combustion appliances, and leave the house.
Go to an emergency room and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning. A doctor can confirm a diagnosis with a blood test done soon after exposure.
Prevention is the key to avoiding CO poisoning.
Have your fuel-burning appliances–gas and oil furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, fireplaces, wood stoves, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters–inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season. Make sure that flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition, and not blocked.
Do choose appliances that vent their fumes to the outside whenever possible. Have them properly installed, and maintain them according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Do reach and follow all the instructions that accompany any fuel-burning device. Use the proper fuel and keep doors to the rest of the house open. Crack a window to ensure enough air for ventilation and proper fuel burning.
Some don’ts include:
Don’t idle the car in a garage. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home.
Don’t ever use a charcoal grill indoors-even in a fireplace.
Don’t use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
Don’t sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
Don’t use any gasoline-powered engines in enclosed spaces, such as movers, chain saws, small engines, or generators.
Don’t ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die.
CO detectors are widely available, and you may want to consider buying one as a back-up, but not as a replacement for proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances.
CO escapes from leaks from furnace burners, fallen soot in fireplaces, damaged or discolored chimney bricks, and excess moisture on windows or walls.