As people in northeast brace themselves for the blizzard of 2013 or ‘Winter Storm Nemo’ as some are calling it, millions of people are making plans to stay warm in the event of related power outages.
I am reminded that Carbon Monoxide (CO) issues are more prevalent in the winter months than any other time of the year.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and its Carbon Monoxide Information Center, more than 150 people in the United States die every year from accidental non-fire related CO poisoning associated with consumer products.
These products include faulty, improperly-used or incorrectly-vented fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters and fireplaces.
The use of portable generators indoors is another major contributor to CO poisoning-related deaths. This usually happens following a bad storm, when power outages occur for an extended periods of time.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels.
Sodexo manages facilities programs at school districts, college and university campuses, corporate offices, hospitals and other healthcare centers and we understand there are a few basic steps you can take to safeguard against CO-related issues.
The following include helpful and easy Q&A’s that will help ensure you and your family not only stays warm, but also remains safe this winter.
Q. What is Carbon Monoxide?
A. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels (Gasoline, Heating Oil, Kerosene, and Natural Gas). Diesel Fuel because of the combustion method does not produce carbon monoxide but does produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide, which in sufficient concentration can cause drowsiness, inattentiveness, and respiratory issues.
Q. Where is carbon monoxide found?
A. Because it is a combustion by-product, carbon monoxide can be found in the fumes of furnaces, vehicles, portable generators, stoves, lanterns, or the burning of wood or charcoal.
Q. How do I know if there are unsafe levels of carbon monoxide in my home?
A. Areas where combustion of fossil fuel occurs should have a carbon monoxide monitor. These are either wired into an alarm system, battery operated, or plug in. Typical areas for locating carbon monoxide monitors include garages, furnace areas, kitchens with natural gas or propane stoves and ovens, and any area where there is a heating oil or gas heater. This includes areas where there are gas fired fireplace logs — even if they are of the ventless type. It is also recommended that a carbon monoxide monitor be installed in the sleeping area of the home along with the smoke detector.
Q. What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
A. The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, nausea, chest pain, and confusion. People who have been consuming alcohol or are asleep may succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning before experiencing symptoms.
Q. How often should I have my furnace and other appliances checked for proper operation?
A. Furnaces, hot water heating systems, stoves, ovens and any other gas, heating oil, gasoline, or coal burning systems should be serviced by a qualified maintenance person annually.
Q. How often should I check my carbon monoxide monitor?
A. Carbon monoxide monitors, just like smoke detectors should be tested monthly and if not equipped with a long life lithium battery, should have the battery changed every time you change your clocks for daylight savings time.
Q. Is there something I should look for if the carbon monoxide monitor sounds?
A. If the carbon monoxide monitor ever sounds other than when you are testing, leave the house immediately and call 911. Since carbon monoxide cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted, there is no way for you to determine where carbon monoxide is coming from. Play it safe and evacuate!
Q. What should I do if I or members of my family have symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
A. Immediately see your doctor or go to the emergency room or an urgent care clinic. Carbon monoxide prevents oxygen from being transported by your blood to the vital organs of your body including your brain. If you feel dizzy or are experiencing confusion, do not attempt to drive yourself. Call an ambulance or have someone call for you.
Q. What can I do to protect my family from carbon monoxide poisoning?
- Never use a generator, charcoal grill, camping stove, or other gasoline or charcoal burning device inside your home, basement, or garage. Passive venting, placing these devices by an open window does not eliminate the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning either. Don’t compromise your safety.
- Even if you have been told that you garage is completely sealed, if it is attached to the house, especially if it is under the living area, do not start or run your car in the garage. Even if the door is open, there is no guarantee that carbon monoxide will not enter the living space.
- Never burn anything in a fireplace or stove that is not vented to the outside. These fireplaces are only meant to burn what they are fueled with.
- Never heat your home with your gas stove or oven. Not only is it a costly heating solution, it is deadly!
Joe Albright is operations vice president for Sodexo Education – Schools.