It was anything but a happy new year in Los Angeles where one woman mourned the loss of her mother and grandmother — both of whom died from carbon monoxide given off by a gas oven door they’d left open to stay warm. A week later, 11 students in Vermont were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning that occurred as a result of a faulty furnace. Both incidents were a painful reminder that when it comes to this “silent killer” the public is far from educated on how to prevent deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning.
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Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas undetectable to the human senses, so people may not know that they are being exposed. Products that are typically involved in CO poisonings include malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators; fireplaces; and charcoal that is burned in homes and other enclosed areas.
Symptoms range from headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness to confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination and loss of consciousness.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be of slow or swift onset, depending on circumstances. But it is deadly. California Poison Control, in an effort to raise public awareness, has issued the following 10 tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. With proper prevention, this “silent killer” can be stopped in its tracks.
1. Have all heating equipment installed properly, and have your home’s heating system inspected by a professional prior to turning the heat on when cold weather season begins.
2. California, along with 34 other states, requires the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in all homes and in apartments. It’s the law. When a CO detector goes off, assume that a real CO danger is present, and get all people and pets out of the structure immediately. Do not re-enter until a heating professional, gas company or fire department has declared the area safe from CO.
3. During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
4. Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil. Doing so blocks the combustion air flow through the appliance and can produce CO.
5. Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in such an area.
6. In climates with snow, make sure that chimneys and vents do not become blocked with snowfall.
7. Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house, or other building, or outside of an open window.
8. Do not use charcoal or hibachi grills to cook with or for heat indoors under any circumstances.
9. Do not attempt to heat your home by turning on the oven or clothes dryer and leaving the door open.
10. Never let a car engine run inside a closed space such as a garage. Drive out promptly after starting the car, and turn the car engine off as soon as you drive into an enclosed space. Never have a garage door closed with a running vehicle inside, even for a few seconds.