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Jan. 5, 2005

Faulty Furnaces and Appliances May Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Each year in America, carbon monoxide poisoning claims approximately 165 lives and sends another 10,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment. Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced when natural gas, propane or other fossil fuels fail to burn completely. CO gas can come from appliances such as furnaces, charcoal grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, generators, small gasoline engines, and motor vehicles. Because it is impossible to see, taste, or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home.

At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health, and length of exposure. Medical experts believe that unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens and people with heart or lung problems are at even greater risk for CO poisoning.

Exposure to CO can cause loss of consciousness and death. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms. If you think you may have CO poisoning, leave the building or vehicle you are in, and call 911 right away.

How to Protect Your Family from CO Poisoning:

Here are some safety tips from the National Center for Environmental Health, U.S. Fire Administration, and National Association of Home Builders to help keep your family safe this winter.

  • Have a qualified professional check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, and venting and chimney systems at least once a year. Keep vents and flues free of debris.
  • Signs of improper combustion in your heating system can include rusting or streaking on chimney or vent, loose or missing furnace panel, soot on venting or appliances, loose or disconnected venting, debris or soot falling from chimney, and moisture on interior side of windows.
  • Install at least one UL (Underwriters Laboratory) listed carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms. Carbon monoxide alarms measure levels of CO over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms. It is very possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear the alarm. This does not mean CO is not present.
  • Never use your range or oven to help heat your home and never use a charcoal grill or hibachi in your home or garage.
  • Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.
  • When purchasing an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house.

If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off and no one is feeling ill:

  1. Silence the alarm.
  2. Turn off all appliances and sources of combustion (i.e. furnace and fireplace)
  3. Ventilate the house with fresh air by opening doors and windows.
  4. Call a qualified professional to investigate the source of possible CO buildup.

If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off and someone is feeling ill:

  1. Evacuate everyone immediately.
  2. Call 911 and provide as much information as possible to the dispatcher about the number of people affected and their symptoms.
  3. Do not re-enter the home without the approval of a fire department representative.
  4. Call a qualified professional to repair the source of the CO.

More information about carbon monoxide poisoning is available from the National Center for Environmental Health at www.cdc.gov/nceh/airpollution/carbonmonoxide/default.htm

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