With the cold weather setting in, the home heating season is under way and with it, arrives a big danger — carbon monoxide poisoning. Experts with the Minnesota Department of Health say that CO can build up to dangerous concentrations indoors when fuel-burning devices — furnaces, water heaters, gas or kerosene space heaters, gas boilers, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, charcoal or gas grills, fireplaces and wood stoves, motor vehicles, and yard equipment — are not properly vented, operated or maintained. CO is most common in the winter months, when a heating system malfunctions in a home or when a car engine is left running in a garage. You can also become exposed to high levels of CO while fishing in ice houses with heating equipment.
The health department offers three basic tips to prevent CO poisoning: 1. Properly vent and maintain fuel-burning appliances. All fuel-burning appliances should be vented to the outside and should be checked by a qualified heating contractor every year to detect potential problems. Never use appliances intended for outdoor use inside, such as barbecue grills, camp stoves, or portable generators. Do not idle cars in garages, both attached and unattached, for any length of time. Dangerously high levels of CO can accumulate even if the garage door is open. 2. Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. When CO is inhaled into the lungs it displaces the oxygen in the blood stream and affects all major organs and muscles. Symptoms of CO exposure are similar to flu-like symptoms. For most people, the first signs of CO exposure include mild headache and breathlessness with moderate exercise. Continued exposure can lead to more severe headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea. Some ways to distinguish CO poisoning from the flu: n You feel better when you are away from home. nEveryone in the home is sick at the same time. n Family members most affected spend the most time at home. n You don’t have a fever or body aches that come with the flu. 3. Install and maintain CO alarms in your home. Minnesota state law requires that every home have at least one operational CO alarm within 10 feet of every room legally used for sleeping.
All CO alarms should conform to the latest Underwriters Laboratory (UL) Standards. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement of your CO alarms, and take note of the suggested replacement date. For more information on CO poisoning, visit the Minnesota Department of Health website and the Carbon Monoxide Safety Association at www.cosafety.org. Know the dangers. Recognize the risks. Take preventative measures. Don’t make the same mistakes as the 500 victims of a silent killer per year.