Carbon Monoxide: Quiet, Odorless, and Lethal

As you try to keep warm this winter, please be aware of the risk of generating carbon monoxide gas in your home. These tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP News) can help.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can get into our homes via leaky chimneys, furnaces, gas water heaters, woodstoves, gas stoves, fireplaces, ovens, and gas clothes dryers—not to mention from vehicles through the garage's door and cigarette smoke (either first- or secondhand).

According to 2006 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year about 15,000 people visit emergency rooms and 500 die due to unintentional carbon-monoxide poisoning. Home heating systems are the most common producers of carbon monoxide.

What does carbon monoxide do in the body when it's inhaled?

Carbon-monoxide poisoning prevents the blood cells from transporting oxygen properly to all parts of the body. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, personality changes, confusion, memory loss, fainting, and even death.

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors, particularly near bedrooms. To ensure their proper functioning, check their batteries and test all such alarms and detectors regularly.
  • If you suspect high levels of carbon monoxide because of symptoms or the sounding of a carbon-monoxide alarm, leave your home immediately.
  • Respond promptly when the alarm of a carbon-monoxide detector sounds. By the time such an alarm goes off, children may already be showing symptoms (see above) of carbon-monoxide poisoning.    
  • Have your furnace, fireplaces, and chimneys inspected each year to ensure they are working properly.
  • Never leave your car idling in the garage, even if the garage door is open. Air circulation inside a garage is not robust enough to keep carbon monoxide levels from quickly becoming dangerous.
  • Vent exhaust fans over gas stoves to the outside.
  • Never use charcoal grills, kerosene heaters, or portable stoves indoors.
  • When installing and using heating devices, always follow the manufacturers' instructions.
  • If possible, whenever a fire is burning in the fireplace, keep a window cracked open.
  • Use dry and well-aged wood in fireplaces. Wet or green wood causes more smoke and contributes to smoke buildup in the chimney, which can force bad air into your house instead of out your chimney.

Stay warm and be safe!

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