Charlotte Ahrens, a public health nurse at the Oneida County Health Department, is encouraging Wisconsin families to learn about the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, take steps to eliminate potential sources of the gas and make sure their homes comply with state law requiring carbon monoxide detectors in all residences.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States, with nearly half of all accidental carbon monoxide deaths occurring during the winter. This odorless, tasteless and colorless gas can be emitted from poorly functioning or unvented furnaces or other gas-powered home appliances. Most carbon monoxide poisoning victims die in their sleep without experiencing the early warning symptoms, like headaches, dizziness or nausea.
By state law, carbon monoxide detectors are currently required in the basement and on every floor of a dwelling, other than attics and garages. Electrical and battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors for homes and recreational use are available at most hardware and discount stores. Carbon monoxide detectors should be tested regularly to ensure they are functioning and batteries in the units should be changed annually.
During particularly cold winter days, some families make dangerous and unfortunate decisions in an attempt to heat their homes. Carbon monoxide can be generated by improper ventilation of furnaces; generators; gasoline, propane or charcoal-burning devices; car exhaust systems; and wood-burning stoves. Running any of these systems without proper ventilation can quickly lead to deadly levels of carbon monoxide in the air.
To protect against carbon monoxide poisoning, follow these safety tips:
• Make sure that there’s a carbon monoxide detector on each level of the home, especially near bedrooms. Carbon monoxide detectors are as important to a family’s safety as smoke detectors – if there are no detectors in the home, purchase and install them immediately.
• Have furnaces or wood-burning stoves inspected annually to ensure they are structurally and functionally sound and that they vent properly to the outside of the home.
• Never run a gasoline or propane heater or a grill (gas or charcoal) inside the home for warmth. Any heating system that burns fuel will produce carbon monoxide. Use a battery-powered detector where there are fuel burning devices but no electric outlets, such as in tents, cabins, RVs and boats with enclosed cabins.
• Never run a car in an enclosed space. If a vehicle is running, have a door to the outside open.
• Generators should be run a safe distance from the home. Never run a generator in the home or garage.
Breathing carbon monoxide displaces the oxygen in the blood and, at high levels, can cause death in minutes. Symptoms of overexposure to carbon monoxide are often mistaken for the flu and include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath/chest pain, nausea/vomiting and confusion. Those who experience any of these symptoms or whose carbon monoxide detector sounds an alarm should head outside immediately for fresh air and call 911.
For more information, visit dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/Air/fs/CO.htm
For carbon monoxide detector requirements, visit dsps.wi.gov/sb/SB-UdcAlarmsInfo.html
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