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Published: Wednesday, 3/15/2006

Beware of a Silent Killer: Carbon Monoxide

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported approximately 126 unintentional non-fire carbon monoxide-poisoning deaths each year during the most recent three-year period (1999-2001) it has analyzed. You may be wondering how to avoid a carbon monoxide catastrophe. The best way to prevent these tragedies is through greater awareness of safe practices, including annual maintenance of heating appliances and venting systems and the use of carbon monoxide detectors in every home.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and poisonous gas that comes from the incomplete combustion of fuels such as natural gas, propane, oil, coal, gasoline, and other fuels. Some symptoms of CO poisoning may mimic common illnesses such as influenza or colds. Exposure to high concentrations of CO can result in death.

There are many contributors to this potential hazard. Most people recognize fuel-fired heating appliances as a potential source of carbon monoxide. Fewer people are aware of the other contributors to this potential hazard that are often brought into the home even though it is dangerous to do so: charcoal grills, camping stoves, portable gasoline-powered generators, and engine powered tools.

Another source of CO is exhaust fumes from automobiles left running in attached garages where CO can seep into the living areas of the home. Most unintentional CO poisonings from home heating appliances can be prevented by proper equipment installation and maintenance, and making sure appliance fumes are properly vented.

GAMA, the national association of manufacturers of space and water heating appliances, urges homeowners to keep their heating appliances clean by removing debris, lint and animal hair from their heating systems air vents and ducts. When your equipment needs to be repaired or replaced, call a contractor who is properly licensed. It is always advisable to ask for a NATE-certified technician (North American Technician Excellence). And just like the wisdom of installing a smoke alarm, GAMA recommends the addition of a CO alarm in every home. CO alarms should be centrally located in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms. Where sleeping areas are separated, more than one alarm may be needed.

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