The Silent Killer

CoPhotoCarbon monoxide, also known as CO, is called the “Invisible or Silent Killer” because it is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas.  More than 150 people in the Unites States die every year from accidental non-fire related CO poisoning associated with consumer products, including generators. Other products include faulty, improperly-used or incorrectly-vented fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters and fireplaces.  It’s that time of year where windows are closed and your furnace and gas fireplace are used continuously.

Below are safety tips published by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA).  Although these tips might seem like common sense, following these simple steps could save your life.

  • A carbon monoxide detector is not the same as a smoke detector; however, if a combination detector is being installed, it should be capable of identifying both fumes with different sounds.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
  • Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Call your local fire department’s non-emergency number to find out what number to call if the CO alarm sounds.
  • Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries.  If the battery is low, replace it.  If it still sounds, call the fire department.
  • CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards.  For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home.  When one sounds, they all sound.
  • If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door.  Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel.
  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it.  Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open.  Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.

Have I been exposed to carbon monoxide?  What are the symptoms?  Tune in next week when we will talk about the human response to various levels of carboxyhemoglobin levels as outlined in Jay Freeman’s paper,  Everything You Wanted To Know About Carbon Monoxide But Didn’t Know Who To Ask.

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