Carbon Monoxide – the Silent Killer

In the old time horror movies of the 1950’s, the monster was big and scary and easily seen. Whether a giant praying mantis or giant mutated ants threatening the small town, it was there in plain sight.

Not all dangers make themselves obvious. Carbon monoxide is known as “the silent killer” because this odorless, colorless and tasteless invisible gas can kill without warning. Each year over 20,000 people make a trip to the emergency room with symptoms and over 4,000 are hospitalized. 400 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning. A tragedy that is preventable.

As we enter the winter season when our heating systems are put into full service, it’s time to refresh our awareness of this topic.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that’s produced anytime fuel is burned. Cars, trucks, fireplaces, small engines like lawn mowers, gas cooking ranges, grills and heating furnaces all produce carbon monoxide. When the burning takes place outdoors, there’s no problem. However, in confined places CO can accumulate. That’s where it becomes dangerous and potentially lethal.

The best prevention is to install carbon monoxide detectors. Many smoke detectors now combine carbon monoxide detectors in the same unit. It’s a great idea to install these in your home. Locate one in every living area of your home, including bedrooms. Make it a point to change the batteries every six months. An easy way to remember is to change the batteries in the spring and fall when the time changes.

Here are some other tips for preventing CO poisoning:

Never burn charcoal grills or heaters indoors. This sounds like a no-brainer yet each year during very cold weather some people attempt to heat their homes this way. Don’t do it.

Never run your vehicle engine inside a closed garage or building. The CO will accumulate. Always keep the garage door open.

If you have gas appliances like a cooking range or a gas water heater, be sure they are vented properly.

Speaking of gas cooking ranges, never use your gas stove to heat your home.

Don’t use portable camp stove indoors.

If you have a power generator for those times when the electricity is out, never use the generator indoors. Use it outdoors and make sure it’s at least 20 feet away from any open windows or air intakes into your home.

If you have a fireplace, make sure you have your chimney inspected every year. Creosote is a natural by product of burning wood. Over time it will accumulate on the inside walls of the chimney. A professional chimney sweep will keep it clean so there is no blockage to back CO into your home.

Have your vehicle’s exhaust system inspected by a qualified mechanic once a year. Have them look for any exhaust leaks that could allow CO to accumulate inside the cabin of your car or truck.


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