Carbon Monoxide [CO]: The Silent Killer


Carbon Monoxide [CO]—often referred to as the “silent killer”—is a colorless and odorless gas produced by burning fuels such as coal, wood, charcoal, gas, natural gas, propane, and kerosene.

Danger: Carbon Monoxide!Cars, lawnmowers, portable generators, space heaters, chain saws, and other everyday products powered by internal combustion engines also create CO. Properly installed and maintained heating and cooking appliances produce very little CO. Unfortunately, fatal CO concentrations can result from improperly operating appliances in your home.

When we breathe air in, CO is absorbed into the bloodstream, displacing oxygen needed to maintain vital organs. It can even cause permanent brain damage or death.

Certain people—particularly the elderly, pregnant women, developing fetuses, young children, and individuals suffering from congestive heart failure and other breathing difficulties—are at particular risk.

The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that 1,500 Americans die from accidental exposure to CO and reports confirm more than 10,000 injuries every year. Although most happen during a one-time sudden event, chronic low levels of CO poisoning can also build up over time from a faulty oil-burning furnace.

Most deaths and illnesses caused by CO poisoning are entirely preventable.

What Are The Symptoms?

Many cases of CO poisoning are misdiagnosed. Often symptoms can mimic the flu [but without the fever], especially in low-to-moderate cases. High levels of CO poisoning result in more progressively severe symptoms including death.

Low-to-Moderate Symptoms

Shortness of breath

Severe Symptoms

Mental confusion
Loss of muscular coordination
Loss of consciousness

If you think you are experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning, leave the area immediately! Call for help from outside or a neighbor's house. Be sure to let EMS staff know that it might be a case of CO poisoning.

How Can I Protect Myself And My Family?

  • Install and operate appliances according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes, preferably by qualified professionals.
  • Have your heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill, and tools. Always refer to the owner’s manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house, or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent unless specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in a contained area.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • Do not burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
  • Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil. This blocks the combustion airflow through the appliance and can produce CO.
  • During home renovations, do not block appliance vents and chimneys with tarps or debris. And make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
  • Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL 2034 safety standard. It can provide some added protection, but an alarm is not a substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO.
  • Tips for proper use of CO alarms:

-- Put a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home.
-- Do not cover the alarm with furniture or draperies.
-- Unless you have a battery backup in your CO alarm, remember it will not function in a power outage.

Please Stay SAFE AND WARM This Winter!


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