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PSA: EPA tips on protecting your family from carbon monoxide poisoning

Release Date: 12/1/2005
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      Denver -- It's getting cold in the Rocky Mountain region, and the arrival of winter means we will be firing up our gas furnaces and woodburning stoves to warm our homes. When we use our furnaces and stoves and spend more time indoors, we are at increased risk of exposure to carbon monoxide; an odorless, colorless gas. Every year, hundreds of people die from exposure to carbon monoxide – deaths that could easily be avoided by taking simple actions to protect ourselves.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced by burning fuel. Any combustion appliance (i.e., gas furnaces, wood stoves, hot water heaters, gas ranges or dryers) produces CO. A car running in an attached garage or the use of a hibachi indoors could also lead to a CO buildup in a home. Early symptoms of CO poisoning can be similar to those of common illnesses, including headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. Since CO is odorless and colorless and initial symptoms could be mistaken for the flu, an exposed person may not be aware they are being poisoned until it is too late. Unborn babies, infants and persons with anemia or heart disease are particularly at risk.

Some steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from CO poisoning:
  • Make sure appliances are installed and vented according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes.
  • Have heating and ventilation systems (including chimneys) inspected annually.
  • Be aware of problems that could indicate an appliance is not operating properly, such as a decreasing hot water supply, heaters that do not fully heat a home, burning odors or soot on vents and appliances.
  • Buy a CO detector for your home or apartment. Be sure the detector meets Standard UL 2034 of the Underwriters Laboratory. Keep in mind that installing a detector is just one of the precautions you should take.

Things you should NOT do:
  • Use a gas range or oven for heating your home
  • Leave a car running in a closed garage
  • Burn charcoal indoors
  • Operate unvented fuel-burning appliances indoors

For more information on carbon monoxide and other indoor air quality pollutants, visit the EPA’s agency Web site at: