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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Carbon Monoxide is serious, especially during the winter – but there are simply ways to guard against it

Often called the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, and deadly gas created whenever fossil fuels like gasoline, wood, natural gas and propane burn incompletely. Heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel can be sources of deadly carbon monoxide any time of the year, but particularly during the winter.

This quick two-minute video gives a synopsis of what carbon monoxide is and what it does:

Here are some signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Headaches.  If several people in the home are suffering headaches then carbon monoxide poisoning may be the cause.
  • Flushed, red skin.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Weakness and dizziness, then eventually unconsciousness.

To prevent a tragedy in your home, please follow these simple tips:

  • Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed within 10 feet of doorways to bedrooms. This is a Minnesota law. We recommend the plug-in type with a battery backup.  Carbon monoxide is only slightly lighter than air so it mixes well. Carbon monoxide alarms can be at any level of the wall or on the ceiling.  You can even use combination smoke AND carbon monoxide alarms.
  • Have your furnace or boiler serviced annually, especially in our Minnesota climate.  This will not only ensure your furnace or boiler are burning “clean,” it may also reduce your fuel costs by making sure it’s running most efficiently.
  • Do not leave a car running in an attached garage.  Warm the car up outside.
  • Do not heat your home or apartment with the stove or oven.
  • If you’re using a generator, make sure it’s in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Do not use a gas or charcoal grill indoors.
In Saint Paul, simply call 9-1-1 if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off.  Most carbon monoxide alarms calls we respond to are false alarms, but we’d rather go to 1,000 false alarms than not be called for a real carbon monoxide poisoning!

Test your carbon monoxide alarms in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, usually monthly.

If you’re a renter, be sure your landlord has provided you with carbon monoxide alarms.  If not, you can call the inspections department at 651-266-8989 to help you.

If the carbon monoxide alarms sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location and make sure everyone is accounted for.  Open doors and windows to ventilate.

A person can be poisoned by a small amount of carbon monoxide over a longer period of time or by a large amount of carbon monoxide over a shorter period of time.  We recommend the use of carbon monoxide alarms with a digital readout.  Here’s how effects differ with concentration of carbon monoxide (ppm = parts Per Million, shown on the digital reading):

  • 100 ppm  - No effects even with 6-8 hours of exposure
  • 200 ppm   - Headache after 2-3 hours
  • 400 ppm   - Headache and nausea after 1-2 hours
  • 800 ppm   - Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 45 minutes.  Collapse and possible unconsciousness after 2 hours.
  • 1000 ppm – Loss of consciousness after 1 hour
  • 1600 ppm – Headache, nausea and dizziness after 20 minutes
  • 3200 ppm – Unconsciousness after 30 minutes
  • 6400 ppm – Unconsciousness and danger of death after 5-10 minutes
  • 12,800 ppm – Unconsciousness and death after 1-3 minutes

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