March is here, the days are getting longer, and spring is in our sights. Still, as many of us continue to heat our homes in the final weeks of winter and even into early spring, it’s important to remember that home heating presents potential hazards, including the risk of carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is created when fuel (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil and methane) from heating and cooking equipment doesn’t burn properly. It’s often called the silent killer because there are no obvious signs of its presence; CO is invisible, odorless, and colorless, and it can be deadly.
In 2016, local fire departments responded to an estimated 79,600 carbon monoxide incidents, or an average of nine such calls per hour. Data from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Center for Health Statistics shows that in 2017, 399 people died of unintentional non-fire carbon monoxide poisoning.
The dangers of CO exposure depend on a number of variables, including the victim's health and activity level. Infants, pregnant women, and people with physical conditions that limit their body's ability to use oxygen (i.e. emphysema, asthma, heart disease) can be more severely affected by lower concentrations of CO than healthy adults would be.
A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time.
One of the best ways to prevent carbon monoxide during the heating season it to have your home heating systems inspected and cleaned, if needed, each year - ideally before the start of the heating season - to make sure they’re working properly.
Also, make sure CO alarms are installed in a central location outside each sleeping area, on every level of the home, and in other locations where needed. Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Following are additional CO safety tips and recommendations:
- If you have been exposed to CO, move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel.
- If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
- During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
- A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
- Only use gas or charcoal grills outside.
For additional information and resources on CO, as well as a wealth of fire and life safety safety issues, visit www.nfpa.org/public-education