As you know, extreme cold weather has gripped much of the U.S. this winter. From Texas to Florida, up the east coast and across the heartland, families have been struggling to stay warm. That’s pretty hard to do with temperatures in the minus 20s and wind chills in the minus 30s.
As temperatures drop, the use of gas heating goes up along with the risk for accidental carbon monoxide poisoning or CO.
That's because carbon monoxide exposure is both highly toxic and very hard to detect. The gas is colorless, tasteless and odorless.
As a result, more than 20,000 Americans seek emergency care each year for carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 400 die.
As recently as last week, a teenager was killed and 41 others were sickened by carbon monoxide in a New Jersey apartment building. Officials say a clay liner in a chimney fell and blocked the carbon monoxide exhaust from escaping. No one in the apartment knew the liner had fallen and the carbon monoxide detector was not working at the time.
If you heat your home with gas, oil or coal, installing a carbon monoxide detector is one of the most important things you can do. Just like fire detectors, you have to make sure that the batteries are charged and replaced at least once a year.
CO can be emitted from gas furnaces, gas powered water heaters, charcoal grills, propane stoves, portable generators and cars left running in an enclosed area such as a garage.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these guidelines to help prevent accidental CO poisoning:
· DO have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
· DO install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.
· DO seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
· DON’T use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
· DON’T run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
· DON’T burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
· DON’T heat your house with a gas oven.
· DON’T use a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent.
Symptoms of CO poisoning may include sleepiness, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, vomiting, shortness of breath and convulsions.
Anyone experiencing such symptoms should be immediately pulled out into the open air. It's important to seek medical help right away: Call 911 or the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
This has been and looks to continue to be, a brutal winter indeed. Many families rely on gas and fireplaces to stay warm when temperatures plummet, like the ones we’re experiencing now. It’s extremely important to make sure that your home is protected from this silent killer, carbon monoxide.