Carbon Monoxide Poisoning — Are You at Risk?

Cold weather invites more danger than just frostbite and a bad back from shoveling snow. And the danger is invisible, and deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 430 people are killed each year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. It’s produced any time a fossil fuel is burned – common sources are portable generators, stoves, lanterns, gas ranges and charcoal- and wood-burning stoves.

Any living creature who shares space with a CO producer can die from breathing the fumes. If you use any of these devices, you should have a CO detector, and a backup. CO fumes can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces, and leaving a window cracked open isn’t sufficient to disperse them. Change the batteries in a CO detector every six months, just like those in a smoke detector.

The highest danger occurs when you’ve been drinking or are sleeping, because you can die before having – or recognizing – the symptoms of CO poisoning. They are:

  • headache;
  • dizziness;
  • weakness;
  • nausea;
  • vomiting;
  • chest pain;
  • confusion.

CO poisoning is an emergency; if you suspect it, seek medical treatment immediately.

Protect yourself and your family from CO poisoning not only by knowing its symptoms, but knowing what to do – and not to do – during a power outage.

Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.

Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage, even with the door open.

Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.

Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine closer than 20 feet from an open window, door or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.

If you’re moving into a house, make sure a home inspector checks the furnace for proper venting to the outside.

Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern or portable camping stove inside a home, tent or camper.

If conditions are too extreme, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.

The CDC has tips for dealing with all kinds of inclement weather conditions, indoors or out. Review them here.

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