Carbon Monoxide Kills Family of Four
“Do you smell something funny?”
If you are being exposed to high levels of Carbon Monoxide, enough to kill you in just a few minutes, you won’t smell a thing!
Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless!
I just read the story of a Chicago family that had moved into their new house on Saturday in October. The utilities weren’t going to be turned on until Monday, so they set up a generator in the garage to provide some heating and to run lights.
By Sunday morning they were all dead of carbon monoxide poisoning.
College educated folks. Suburban neighborhood.
How is this possible? They just didn’t know any better!
Given the weather reports lately, with power outages and threatened historic cold weather, be sure you know better. Here are the basics.
What is Carbon Monoxide poisoning?
When you breathe in carbon monoxide, it combines with the hemoglobin in your blood, taking the place of the oxygen that should be there. Breathe in too much, and you will become sick and ultimately die from lack of oxygen.
What are the symptoms?
Very similar to flu, and can come on gradually if you are exposed over a period of time. They include headache, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness.
What produces carbon monoxide?
It’s produced when carbon products – like wood, gas, kerosene, charcoal – are burned but only partially consumed. Most common situation – when someone operates a stove or engine (car, lawn mower, power washer, generator) in an enclosed space like the house or attached garage. (In the Chicago situation, the generator was running in the closed-up garage.) Second most common situation – when a gas heater or gas stove isn’t properly set up, allowing the fuel to escape into the living area without being completely burned.
What’s the real risk in the U.S.?
First Alert quotes the Journal of the American Medical Association as saying that “1,500 people die each year” because of carbon monoxide poisoning. FEMA says that “more than 150 people die” from “non-fire” related carbon monoxide poising each year. Another source mentions “at least 170 deaths as a result of poison from “non-automotive” consumer products. ” Take your pick. One death is too many when they are all preventable.
How can I prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?
- First, of course, simply be sensible and don’t set up any kind of non-vented engine or temporary gas heater or cooker in the house!
- Buy and install a carbon monoxide detector – and pay attention to it! Remember, it probably gives off two kinds of “beeps.” One is soft and repetitive, and means that you need to change the batteries. The other is loud and insistent.
- If the detector goes off, trust it! (Don’t do like one lady did, wait several hours because “I didn’t smell anything!” Odorless, colorless . . . remember?) Take steps to protect your family. Get out into fresh air. Call 911 or the Fire Department.
My friend Russ Flanigan, a BPI Certified contractor in Vermont, adds these recommendations to the basic ones above:
- Install your detectors intelligently. They can be fooled by humidity, so don’t put them in the kitchen over the sink or dishwasher, or in the bathroom. Put them outside every separate sleeping area.
- Getting a new kitchen or cookstove? Insist on having it tested for carbon monoxide when it’s installed. (Per Russ, furnaces are routinely tested, stoves not so often.)
- Own a self-cleaning oven? Be sensible; don’t turn it on and go to bed. Rather, operate the self-cleaning function when you can keep the kitchen well aired.
Action Item: Add carbon monoxide to your “preparedness list.” Buy and install the appropriate number of carbon monoxide alarms.
Click here for a review of the different types, features and costs.
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