You Can’t See It or Smell It. Know How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The news this week that a malfunctioning boiler in a Vermont apartment building led to dangerously elevated levels of carbon monoxide, is an important reminder for Vermonters to make sure they know how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. The alarm from a carbon monoxide detector in the basement helped to prevent a possible tragedy.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, deadly gas. You can’t see, smell or taste it. Dozens of people visit the emergency department each year in Vermont for carbon monoxide-related symptoms. Between 2013 and 2016, at least one death every year was attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is produced any time a fuel is burned, such as natural gas, propane, oil, charcoal or wood. Without proper ventilation, carbon monoxide can build to dangerous levels inside your home or garage.
Health officials say that reminders to take steps to prevent CO poisoning are especially timely in the fall – as the weather turns colder, we turn on the heat, and homes are buttoned up tight for winter.
“Having working carbon monoxide alarms throughout the home is as important to saving lives as having smoke alarms,” said Department of Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “Carbon monoxide gas can build up quickly. Alarms provide the early warning of rising CO levels and alert you to get out of the home and be safe,” Dr. Levine said. “Replace the batteries when you change your clocks in the fall and spring, test the alarm regularly and make sure the unit is not expired.”
To help make it easy for people to know what to do, the Health Department has created safety tips, a video, and fact sheets translated into eight languages – available at healthvermont.gov/CO.
In addition to checking CO alarms, Dr. Levine advises Vermonters to have their furnace checked each year. “A faulty heating system can be especially dangerous, so have yours inspected and serviced every year. The same applies to wood stoves, chimneys, hot water heaters, stoves and clothes dryers that burn fuel. And throughout the winter, be sure to keep all the vents outside your home clear of snow and ice.”
If you lose power, never use a generator inside your home, basement, garage or enclosed structure. Generators should be as far from your home as possible – at least 20 feet. Never run a vehicle inside your garage, even if the door is open. If you use remote car starters and keyless ignition devices, be careful to not turn the vehicle on by accident.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness and upset stomach/vomiting. This sometimes gets confused with the flu. Pets will also suffer these symptoms which can serve as a warning. If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, go outside immediately to get fresh air, then call 9-1-1.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable. Check out our video and information about keeping yourself and your loved ones safe, go to healthvermont.gov/CO.