December and January are the riskiest months for carbon monoxide poisoning in the U.S. In fact, a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that death rates triple when compared to summer months.¹ Understanding the warning signs, causes and how to practice carbon monoxide safety could mean the difference between life and death.
Carbon Monoxide Safety
- Know the Symptoms
Carbon monoxide displaces oxygen in the blood, depriving the heart, brain and other organs of the oxygen they need to function properly. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are described as flu-like and include fatigue and chest pain. People who are exposed might also feel dizzy, nauseous and confused. They can suffer from muscle weakness and loss of coordination, which can make it difficult (sometimes impossible) to escape the danger. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should immediately get fresh air and dial 911. Increased and prolonged exposure can lead to a loss of consciousness and death by suffocation.
- Know the Sources
Knowing the typical carbon monoxide sources can help you remain vigilant, especially when using certain things to create heat. Gas-powered furnaces in need of service are a common cause of carbon monoxide poisoning. Others include inadequately vented fireplaces, portable generators, burning charcoal, propane stoves / grills, kerosene heaters and running vehicles. When using any of these to stay warm, do so responsibly and stay alert to possible signs of carbon monoxide exposure.
- Detect and Prevent
Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Detectors can help prevent fatalities, but many households do not have them. They should be placed on each level of the home, particularly near sleeping areas, and checked regularly. A small study tested in-service, residential carbon monoxide detectors, and among those tested, 40% failed.² That means two out of every five households that were sampled incorrectly assumed they were protected by a carbon monoxide detector. If the age of a detector is unknown, it is best to replace it. Research detectors before purchasing and try to find one with an audible or visual alarm that indicates end-of-service. Some newer carbon monoxide detectors have batteries that outlast the device’s service life, which eliminates any battery replacement guesswork.
While detectors play a key role in carbon monoxide safety, they should not be relied upon exclusively. Additional proactive steps should be taken. For example, ensure that any gas-powered equipment brought into the home or workplace carries a seal from a national testing agency. It’s also smart to schedule heating equipment service appointments and inspections according to the manufacturer’s guidance, which is typically on an annual basis.
Stay Warm Safely
When colder temperatures set in, make carbon monoxide safety a priority. It takes little effort to ensure your heating equipment is regularly serviced and that your carbon monoxide detectors work. The safety experts at SilverStone Group want to remind you of this often-overlooked danger so that you can enjoy many more winters to come (that are hopefully filled with more fun and less shoveling).
¹“Carbon Monoxide – Related Deaths – United States, 1999-2004.“ December 21, 2007. CDC website. Accessed on September 19, 2018 at www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5650a1.htm?s_cid=mm5650a1_e
² Ryan, Timothy J., and Katherine J. Arnold. “Residential Carbon Monoxide Detector Failure Rates in the United States.” American Journal of Public Health. 2011. 101.10, e15–e17.
This article originally appeared in the 2018 | ISSUE THREE of the SilverLink magazine, under the title “Breathe Easy: Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips” To receive a complimentary subscription to the SilverLink magazine, sign up here.