Being prepared can prevent carbon monoxide tragedy

It isn’t called ‘The Silent Killer’ for nothing. Carbon monoxide kills 400 people in the U.S. every year and sends another 20,000 to emergency rooms.

Carbon monoxide gas is created when fuels like gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil and methane don’t burn completely. In the home, heating and cooking appliances, wood-stoves and fireplaces can be sources of carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas. Poisoning symptons include dizziness, confusion, headaches and nausea. Any repeated experience of the aforementioned ailments, or any increasing in the severity of the symptoms, could be signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The simplest way to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside every sleeping area and on every level of a home. When the sensor picks up a carbon monoxide reading, it sets off an alarm much like a smoke detector. Of course, the alarm needs to have working batteries, so frequent testing should be performed.

If the alarm goes off, leave the home immediately and call the fire department. Fresh air outdoors or by an open window or door can help while emergency personnel arrive.

Homes with furnaces, dryers, stoves, fireplaces and water heaters need to be vented properly. Follow guidelines provided in local building codes to ensure the pipes are vented properly in the correct place and at the required height. Any snow or ice buildup can plug a vent and allow carbon monoxide into a home.

Another source of carbon monoxide is the exhaust from a vehicle. When a vehicle needs to be warmed up before use, it should be removed from a garage.

Having a garage door open is not enough to vent the gas. Also, making sure the vehicle’s exhaust pipe is clear of any obstructions – like snow – can keep the gas out of the cab.

People who use a generator at camp or while camping should be aware that the exhaust is just as dangerous as a vehicle’s exhaust. The generator should be used in a well-ventilated, outdoors area away from windows, doors and vent openings.

Gas and charcoal grills can also produce the gas and should only ever be used outside.

For more information on carbon monoxide, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention at