Protect Your Family and Yourself from Carbon
You canít see or smell carbon monoxide, but at high
levels it can kill a person in minutes. Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced
whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is
burned. If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly,
the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if
appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous
levels of CO can result. Hundreds of people die accidentally every year
from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used
fuel-burning appliances. Even more die from CO produced by idling cars.
Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or with a
history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially susceptible.
Be safe. Practice the DOís and DONíTs of carbon monoxide.
Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. At moderate levels,
you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally
confused, nauseated, or faint. You can even die if these levels persist
for a long time. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea,
and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health.
Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food
poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could
be the cause.
If you experience symptoms that you think could be from
DO GET FRESH AIR
IMMEDIATELY. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion
appliances and leave the house.
DO GO TO AN
EMERGENCY ROOM and tell the physician you suspect CO
poisoning. If CO poisoning has occurred, it can often be
diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure.
DO Be prepared to
answer the following questions for the doctor:
Do your symptoms occur only in the house? Do they disappear or
decrease when you leave home and reappear when you return?
Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar
symptoms? Did everyoneís symptoms appear about the same time?
Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home?
Has anyone inspected your appliances lately? Are you certain
they are working properly?
Prevention is the Key to Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
DO have your
fuel-burning appliances -- including oil and gas furnaces, gas water
heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space
heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves -- inspected by a trained
professional at the beginning of every heating season. Make certain
that the flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition, and
appliances that vent their fumes to the outside whenever possible,
have them properly installed, and maintain them according to
||DO read and follow
all of the instructions that accompany any fuel-burning device. If
you cannot avoid using an unvented gas or kerosene space heater,
carefully follow the cautions that come with the device. Use the
proper fuel and keep doors to the rest of the house open. Crack a
window to ensure enough air for ventilation and proper fuel-burning.
||DO call EPAís IAQ INFO
Clearinghouse (1-800-438-4318) or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (1-800-638-2772)
for more information on how to reduce your risks from CO and other
combustion gases and particles.
||DONíT idle the car
in a garage -- even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes
can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your
||DONíT use a gas
oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
use a charcoal grill indoors -- even in a fireplace.
||DON'T sleep in any
room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
||DONíT use any
gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers,
chain saws, small engines or generators) in enclosed spaces
||DONíT ignore symptoms,
particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could
lose consciousness and die if you do nothing.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors are widely available in stores and you
may want to consider buying one as a back-up --BUT NOT AS A
REPLACEMENT for proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning
appliances. However, it is important for you to know that the
technology of CO detectors is still developing, that there are
several types on the market, and that they are not generally
considered to be as reliable as the smoke detectors found in homes
today. Some CO detectors have been laboratory-tested, and their
performance varied. Some performed well, others failed to alarm even
at very high CO levels, and still others alarmed even at very low
levels that donít pose any immediate health risk. And unlike a smoke
detector, where you can easily confirm the cause of the alarm, CO is
invisible and odorless, so itís harder to tell if an alarm is false
or a real emergency.
So Whatís a Consumer to Do?
First, donít let buying a CO detector lull you into a false sense
of security. Preventing CO from becoming a problem in your home is
better than relying on an alarm. Follow the checklist of DOs and
Second, if you shop for a CO detector, do some research on
features and donít select solely on the basis of cost.
Non-governmental organizations such as Consumers Union (publisher of
Consumer Reports), the American Gas Association, and
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) can help you make an informed
decision. Look for UL certification on any detector you purchase.
Carefully follow manufacturersí instructions for its placement,
use, and maintenance.
If the CO detector alarm goes off:
- Make sure it is your CO detector and not your smoke detector.
- Check to see if any member of the household is experiencing
symptoms of poisoning.
- If they are, get them out of the house immediately and seek
medical attention. Tell the doctor that you suspect CO poisoning.
- If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh
air, turn off all potential sources of CO -- your oil or gas
furnace, gas water heater, gas range and oven, gas dryer, gas or
kerosene space heater and any vehicle or small engine.
- Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning
appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly
and that there is nothing blocking the fumes from being vented out
of the house.