Georgia’s war against carbon monoxide

Published 4:43 pm Friday, January 30, 2009

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is often referred to as the silent killer.

It is an odorless colorless toxic gas, which in high concentrations, can kill. All too often individuals ignore the symptoms thinking they have the flu or food poisoning.

During winter months, common sources of CO are unvented kerosene and gas space heaters that people use to supplement their heating systems. High concentrations of CO may also be a result of malfunctioning or leaking furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces or gas stoves. Another source is an idling automobile sitting in an attached garage with the garage door closed.

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This silent killer results in hundreds of deaths each year that could have easily been prevented.

CO is an invisible, odorless and tasteless gas produced by burning fuels such as gas, kerosene, charcoal and wood. Low levels of exposure can result in shortness of breath, mild nausea and mild headaches. Higher concentrations result in severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea and faintness.

Georgia is being proactive in the prevention of carbon monoxide deaths. Beginning this January, all new one- and two-family homes and townhouses of three stories or less are required to have a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. The law doesn’t apply to homes built before 2009.

Prolonged exposure to CO can result in death. High levels of CO occur in your home when appliances and heat sources are used incorrectly or poorly maintained.

The best way to keep your home safe is to prevent the problem.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides several helpful tips on how you can prevent CO poisoning.

Do vent fumes to the outside.

Do avoid using unvented gas or kerosene space heaters. If you must use one, always leave a window open for ventilation.

Do check all exhaust ventilation systems, including chimneys, flues and vents annually.

Do install a CO detector in your home, preferably near the bedroom. Choose a system with a battery backup and replace the batteries annually.

Do not burn charcoal inside the house, including in the fireplace and garage.

Do not use gas or kerosene heaters that are not vented in enclosed spaces, especially in bedrooms.

Do not leave a running automobile in the garage even with the garage door open.

Do not ignore the symptoms of CO poisoning.

If you suspect high levels of CO in your home, open the doors and windows, turn off all gas appliances and go outside. If the exposure is severe go to an emergency room or call 911.

Five simple steps can prevent CO poisoning. Just remember I CAN B.

I—Install CO alarms near sleeping areas.

C—Check heating systems and fuel-burning appliances annually.

A—Avoid the use of non-vented combustion appliances, such as kerosene heaters.

N—Never burn fuels indoors except in devices such as stoves or furnaces that are made for safe use.

B—Be Attentive to possible symptoms of CO poisoning.

If you think you may have CO poisoning, get outside into the fresh air immediately then call the fire department or emergency services. Do not re-enter your home.

Protect yourself and your family. Learn more about CO poisoning on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site,