Warming up During the Winter Months: Carbon Monoxide Awareness

Posted in:
Carbon monoxide
Poison Safety & Prevention

With money being tight and heating prices skyrocketing upward, many people are weathering the cold rather than turning on the heat.

But eventually, the heat must be turned on and that may expose your family to a serious toxic risk – carbon monoxide. Every household that is equipped with a furnace, boiler, water heater, fire place or emergency generator that burns natural gas, propane, fuel oil, coal or wood should have a carbon monoxide detector installed.

“During fall and winter, be sure to safeguard your family against carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is called the “silent killer” because you can not see it, taste it or smell it,” says Jon Thompson, Director of the Southeast Texas Poison Center located at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.  “It may be difficult to know when you are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning because the symptoms can be very similar to the flu. Exposure to carbon monoxide causes headache, nausea, redness of the skin, dizziness, confusion, and even loss of consciousness.”

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas produced by the incomplete burning of carboniferous fuels such as wood, coal, natural gas, propane and fuel oil. As many as 500 accidental deaths a year may be due to poisoning by carbon monoxide according to the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) http://www.cdc.gov/co/basics.htm. The majority of people who are killed are overcome in their sleep.

If you suspect anyone is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, get them to fresh air immediately and then call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.  If the patient is unconscious, call 9-1-1 for immediate medical assistance.

Safety steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector to monitor the air and issue an alarm if the level of carbon monoxide reaches a dangerous zone.
  • Have your heating system inspected by a qualified professional yearly before it is turned on in the fall.
  • Check the fireplace chimney or flue for leaves, branches,  bird nests or other blockage that may have accumulated.
  • Check all alternative heating sources such as space heaters or wood stoves to ensure they are in safe operating condition and are being properly used.
  • NEVER use the gas range or oven for heating, even in power failures.
  • NEVER burn coal or use charcoal in a closed space, even a garage with the door open.
  • NEVER leave an automobile motor running in a closed garage.