According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 200 people in the United States die annually from carbon monoxide poisoning, usually due to faulty gas appliances. Other organizations, such as the American Medical Association (AMA), estimate much higher rates of death. The AMA has reported that carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States.
Carbon Monoxide gas is difficult to detect because it is odorless, colorless and tasteless. Underwriter's Laboratories itemizes several early warning signs of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning that are detectable: "...streaks of carbon or soot around the service door of your fuel-burning appliances; the absence of a draft in your chimney; excessive rusting on flue pipes or appliance jackets; moisture collecting on the windows and walls of furnace rooms; fallen soot from the fireplace; small amounts of water leaking from the base of the chimney, vent or flue pipe; damaged or discolored bricks at the top of your chimney and rust on the portion of the vent pipe visible from outside your home.
CO poisoning may be the cause of flu-like symptoms such as headaches, tightness of chest, dizziness, fatigue, confusion and breathing difficulties. Because CO poisoning often causes a victim\'s blood pressure to rise, the victim\'s skin may take on a pink or red cast."1
Carbon monoxide alarms are essential protective devices in homes with gas appliances, gas heaters, and fireplaces. It is recommended that these alarms be connected to the smoke alarm system so that any alarm in the house becomes activated if a problem arises. These alarms should be periodically tested according to the manufacturer\'s instructions. The average life span of carbon monoxide alarms is relatively short, averaging from 2 to 3 years.
Should a CO detector go off check all family members to see if they are exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above. If they are, get them out of the house immediately and seek medical attention. If no household members show signs of acute CO poisoning turn off all CO producing appliances and ventilate the home by opening doors and windows. Have fuel burning appliances checked by a qualified technician.
Prevention is always preferable to detection and there are several things you can do to reduce the chances of CO poisoning.
- Never use an un-vented kerosene or gas space heater indoors.
- Don't let your car idle in the garage.
- Do not use any gasoline fueled engines like mowers, weed trimmers and electric generators in enclosed spaces.
- Never use your gas oven to heat your home.
- Don't use a charcoal grill indoors, even if you think you have vented it by placing it in a fireplace.
- Have your heating system inspected at the beginning of every system and have vents and chimney flues checked and cleaned at least annually.