(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of articles about winter safety issues.)
This year, the holidays came with a break in winter weather.
Though there was a white Christmas, warmer conditions followed and turned into almost spring-like weather.
However, even in warmer times, one winter risk persists, as we continue to use heating systems that may be threatening our safety, experts warn.
Safety experts warn that the gas can enter our homes without us realizing it, especially during the cold weather months.
According to information from the Centers for Disease Control, carbon monoxide — CO — is “an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death.
“CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned by breathing it.”
Symptoms include “headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO ingestion can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. “People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.”
Tips for avoiding CO in the home include:
• Have heating systems, water heaters and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
• Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors. Although these heaters don’t have a flame, they burn gas and can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.
• Install a battery-operated CO detector and check or replace the battery annually at least.
• All gas appliances must be vented so that CO will not build up in structures.
• Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
• Have chimneys checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause CO to build up.
• Never use a gas range or oven for heating. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a build up of CO inside structures.
• Never run a car or truck in the garage with the garage door shut. CO can build up quickly while a vehicle is running in a closed garage.
One of the problems that local fire officials have faced in recent years has involved people starting their cars in their attached garage with the door open.
However, with modern heating systems, the exhaust is frequently drawn into the home. Then the car is driven out and the door is closed and the gas is trapped in the house. After several such incidents, the level begins to rise.
That is why having a CO detector is a good idea, fire officials warn.