May 2004
CO, the Silent Killer

You can't see it, you can't smell it,but it can be deadly.

Carbon monoxide (CO) may be lurking in your home or office without you knowing it's there. It's a colorless, odorless gas that could threaten the lives of you, your family and your pets.

CO is a poisonous gas that replaces oxygen in the blood. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association , carbon monoxide is the number one cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America.

It's produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels, such as coal, propane, wood and natural gas. What do all these have in common? Carbon.

You come in contact with CO almost daily. Your automobile produces CO when the engine is running. Never start your automobile and leave it running in a closed garage. Your car's exhaust contains CO.

Fuel-burning appliances, including clothes dryers, gas ranges, water heaters and furnaces, can release CO into the air if installed incorrectly or not maintained properly.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers these steps to reduce exposure to CO:

  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.
  • Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an un-vented one.
  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
  • Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
  • Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.
  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up your central heating system (including furnaces, flues and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.
  • Do not idle the car inside the garage.

When you are exposed to CO, the affects of CO poisoning depend on the amount consumed. The first symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea and loss of coordination.

CO causes you to feel sleepy once it enters your blood stream. If you're already asleep, it can keep you from awakening. CO poisoning can cause brain damage, but in extreme concentrations the gas can be deadly.

Along with maintaining your fuel-burning appliances, you should also have a backup plan. Consider installing a CO detector as a backup, but not as a replacement for the proper use and maintenance of your appliances.

Install CO detectors near bedrooms and family rooms, but keep them away from air vents or fans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you check your CO detector's battery every time you check your smoke detector's batteries.

The CO detector will monitor levels, if any, of CO. An alarm will sound if CO is ever detected. If your CO detector's alarm sounds, the EPA advises you to first check on others in the building to see if they are experiencing any symptoms. If so, seek medical attention immediately.

If no one is experiencing symptoms, ventilate your home or office with fresh air and turn off all potential sources of CO. And have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances.

Go on-line at www.epa.gov for more information on CO. The American Red Cross also has facts on CO poisoning prevention at www.redcross.org.

Keep your fuel-burning appliances properly maintained and inspected by a qualified technician, and you'll prevent carbon monoxide from invading your home.