Each year approximately 400 Americans die from carbon monoxide poisoning while another 20,000 are admitted to emergency rooms as a result of exposure to dangerous levels of this toxic gas, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
And as the weather continues to cool and we enter the heating season in the Valley, the number of these incidents tends to increase. Here’s what you need to know to keep you and your family safe.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas that is undetectable by humans. It is colorless (invisible), odorless and tasteless. Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when you have been exposed to a high level of carbon monoxide for even a short time or have been exposed to low levels over an extended timeframe.
How carbon monoxide is produced
Wherever there is a flame, carbon monoxide is present. Carbon monoxide is a result of incomplete combustion. Since it is nearly impossible to have perfectly complete combustion, all gas appliances give off some CO.
However, properly installed and maintained gas appliances emit very small amounts of carbon monoxide, which is then safely vented outside your home.
Why CO poisoning is so dangerous
Even low levels of carbon monoxide can be dangerous to your and your family’s health. Carbon monoxide bonds with your red blood cells, preventing them from absorbing oxygen.
This, in turn, prevents your red blood cells from carrying that oxygen to your vital organs (brain, heart and lungs.) Carbon monoxide poisoning can quickly move from feelings of nausea to tiredness, blackouts and death.
In addition, this toxic gas is odorless and colorless, making it impossible for you to know when you’re breathing it in.
How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
You can keep your family safe and carbon monoxide poisoning can be easily prevented by following a few easy safety tips.
Maintain gas appliances – From your water heater and stove to your furnace, every gas appliance in your home should be maintained and inspected regularly to make sure they are operating safely.
Keep vents clean, clear and sealed – Harmful fumes from your furnace and water heater are vented out of your home through flues. In order to prevent the exhaust from backing up into your home, clear any obstructions and make sure the vents are tightly secured.
Inspect chimneys yearly – While you don’t need to have your chimney swept every year, you should at least have it inspected to make sure it is clear of obstructions and safe to use.
Use appliances only as directed – Do not use a generator indoors. Don’t use your stove or oven to heat your home. Never use a camp stove, charcoal grill or barbeque inside your home.
Install CO detectors – Since you cannot detect carbon monoxide (it is invisible and odorless), you must install CO detectors in your home to keep your family safe.
With a little prevention and education, we can reduce the number of CO deaths each year to zero. Spread the word by sharing this article with your friends and family on Facebook, Twitter or by email.