As winter begins to unleash the cold temperatures on our area, we are reminded of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning cases seem to rise in the colder months due to improperly vented heating sources and allowing a vehicle to warm up in the garage. According to the Centers for Disease Control on average, in the United States, roughly 50,000 people visit the emergency department yearly for CO poisoning and an approximate 430 people die from CO poisoning during the same period.
Carbon monoxide is created when fuels such as natural gas, propane, kerosene, wood, coal, and gasoline burn incompletely. The fumes released during this process are odorless and colorless making carbon monoxide even more dangerous because you don’t know it is in the air. Many of these fuels are used throughout the year in homes for cooking, and heating. If there is an issue with the appliances such as stoves, furnaces, and water heaters they can release CO causing poisoning to the people and animals in the home. Improper cleaning of vents, flues and chimneys can also cause CO to build up in a building causing poisoning.
Gas powered engines will also release carbon monoxide so it is vital that families not warm up their vehicle in a garage even with the garage doors open. These fumes can leak into the car and home causing poisoning. CO poisoning is also seen during winter storms when power is lost and generators are used as a power source in a garage or within 20 feet of an open door or window.
Common symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Individuals who are sleeping or who have been consuming alcohol can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever having symptoms.
The best ways to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning in your home is to properly maintain appliances and heating sources along with not running motors inside. Since carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless it is vital to have a working carbon monoxide detector. These detectors should be battery powered or have a battery backup and should be checked every six months just like a smoke detector.
For more information on carbon monoxide poison you can visit the Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/copoisoning/.
Brody Davis is the Emergency Response Coordinator and Public Information Officer at the Meigs County Health Department.