Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas that - when concentrated - is extremely toxic to humans and other mammals. When suffering from the effects of CO poisoning, symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion, but no fever. Prolonged exposure will cause sickness, coma and death. Needless to say, carbon monoxide is not something to be taken lightly.
In Maine, nearly 75 percent of all reported cases of carbon monoxide poisoning occur between November and March. Most of these poisonings are caused by home heating appliances that are either not functioning properly or have blocked vents. Anything that burns fuel - such as oil or propane boilers, wood stoves and gasoline-powered engines - produces carbon monoxide. When these appliances are not properly maintained or vented, carbon monoxide can quickly build up without warning.
Many Maine residents use portable, gas-powered generators during power outages. Unfortunately, these devices can also lead to severe carbon monoxide poisoning and deaths when not properly used; when run in a basement or garage, a generator is up to 300 times more likely to cause CO poisoning. Anyone with a portable generator should have an extension cord long enough to make sure the generator can be run outside and kept at least 15 feet from windows or doors. Additionally, a plan for keeping the generator protected from the elements should be in place prior to utilizing the generator. Forming a plan now can help help avoid the temptation to run a generator inside a basement, garage or cellar during a storm.
To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, health officials recommend the following:
• Service your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances every year.
• Make sure appliance and heating exhaust vents are not blocked by snow after storms.
• Use your generator outdoors in the fresh air. Make a plan so that you can run your generator at least 15 feet from windows or doors and keep it protected from rain, ice, and snow.
• Make sure you have a CO detector that runs on your home’s power and has a battery back up. It is advisable to have one on every floor, especially near where people sleep.
• Do not leave vehicles or any other gas-powered motors running inside a garage, barn, or shed, even if you leave the windows and doors open.
• Do not use a charcoal grill, camp stove or other gas or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage or near a window or door.
• Don't try to heat your home with a gas oven.
If you suspect you or a loved one are experiencing CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseous or if your CO alarm goes off, immediately leave the house, call 911 and seek medical attention.
For more information, please visit the Maine Department of Environmental Health.