Officials encourage awareness of carbon monoxide dangers, risks
Last year, 192 people were treated in Utah’s emergency departments for carbon monoxide poisoning. Four of those people died.
As temperatures continue to plummet, officials with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, Dominion Energy, Utah Poison Control, Unified Fire Authority and University of Utah Healthcare are asking the public to be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, and offer several tips to prevent it from happening.
Sherrie Pace, outreach coordinator for the Utah Poison Control Center, said around 350 calls are taken each year across the state in regards to carbon monoxide poisoning. She said commonly reported symptoms include headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath. However, Pace said, high levels of exposure can cause vomiting, confusion and loss of consciousness.
“Severe CO poisoning can cause severe illness, brain damage or even death,” Pace said.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas produced when gasoline, natural gas, propane, kerosene and other fuels are not completely burned during use. Automobile exhaust is a common source of CO, but other common producers include small gasoline engines, camp lanterns and stoves, charcoal grills, gas ranges and furnaces. When not working properly or used incorrectly, dangerous amounts of CO can build up in enclosed places and poison people and pets.
Pace said it’s critical to install an Underwriters Laboratory-approved CO detector near sleeping areas on each level of your home and to check the battery twice annually. Also, never leave a vehicle running in an enclosed area such as a garage — even with the garage door open.
“Do not use a gas oven to heat your house,” she said. “Never use a generator inside your house, trailer or garage.”
Pace also said it’s important to have your furnace, water heater and gas-powered appliances inspected each year, and to also clean your fireplace chimney and flue every year to clear any obstruction.
“If the carbon monoxide alarm goes off, don’t assume something is wrong with the device. Instead, assume it is functioning properly and get out of the house and call poison control or the fire department for help,” Pace said. “Better to be safe than sorry.”
Dominion Energy states the flame in a gas appliance should generally be blue, with possible flecks of orange. If the flame is mostly yellow, the gas is not completely burning and is giving off excess carbon monoxide.
Other suggestions from the gas company include:
- Forced-air furnaces generally have a filter that cleans the air before heating and circulating it throughout the home. Check the filter regularly and clean or replace when necessary.
- When installing a new or cleaned filter, properly reinstall the front panel door of the furnace so it fits snugly. Never operate the furnace without the front panel door properly in place, as dangerous gasses may escape.
- Make sure your furnace and water heater are inspected annually by a professional heating contractor. Be sure to clean or replace your furnace filter throughout the heating season, and check your chimney or dryer vent for blockages.
- Check for signs of improper venting, such as soot around the appliance or moisture on the inside of windows when the appliance is operating.
- Vacuum regularly around the furnace, especially around the burner compartment, to prevent a buildup of dust and lint.
- Use only space heaters approved by local fire codes and installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re using a vent-free heater, always crack a window or exterior door for ventilation.
- Never use a portable barbecue or hibachi as a home heater. They produce carbon monoxide, are not properly insulated and can easily overturn.
- Don’t use a gas range, oven or clothes dryer for heating.
- Don’t line the oven or range burners with foil, as you may block a vent.
- Make sure your exterior dryer vent is free of lint.
- Periodically check range pilots for carbon build-up.
If you think you’ve been exposed to CO poisoning, call the Utah Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. The center is open 24 hours a day. If you are having trouble breathing or someone in the home is unconscious, call 911.