This Fall, Keep Your Family Safe from Carbon Monoxide
As leaves fall and colder weather signals the start-up of furnaces, Consumers Energy urges residents to protect themselves against carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. The toxic gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and can be produced when home appliances aren't operating or venting properly.
In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder has declared Oct. 20 through Oct. 26 "Carbon Monoxide Safety and Awareness Week.” The governor's declaration reminds residents to take preventive measures and learn to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
"Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States. Most poisonings occur between November and February when homes and businesses are being heated by various fuel sources," says Michele Kirkland, vice president of energy operations for Consumers Energy. "Our promise to our customers and Michigan residents is to help them stay safe by providing important information about carbon monoxide poisoning so they can protect themselves and their families from this invisible killer," she says.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by the incomplete combustion of fuels including oil, propane, natural gas, coal, wood, kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel and charcoal. Deadly amounts of carbon monoxide can be produced by defective or poorly vented appliances that use these fuels such as furnaces, fireplaces and wood stoves, as well as water heaters, generators and vehicles. The Michigan Department of Community Health reported that in 2011 (latest available data) there were 934 unintentional CO poisonings in Michigan, 22 of which resulted in death.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning often mimic the flu, and include headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, and stinging or burning of the eyes. Prolonged exposure can cause disorientation, convulsions, unconsciousness and ultimately death.
The best defense against carbon monoxide problems is to install an audible carbon monoxide detector that meets or exceeds Underwriters Laboratory standards and will sound if dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are present in a home or building. "There's no doubt that audible alarm CO detectors save lives, and they are as important to have in residences and other buildings as smoke detectors," Kirkland notes.
Another way to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning is to make sure all fuel-burning appliances are properly installed and maintained. Furnaces should be cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified technician. Finally, venting on furnaces, water heaters and chimneys should be inspected periodically to be sure that animal nests or other debris do not interfere with proper ventilation.
If you suspect there is a carbon monoxide leak in your home, you should evacuate all people and pets, move to fresh air, and call 911.