Thiele: January is Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month

Did you know that carbon monoxide related poisonings increase by 10% during winter months?

That’s right, the increased use of home heating systems, use of gasoline-powered generators during and after winter storms, and indoor use space heaters all contribute to the increased dangers of carbon monoxide exposures during winter.

At any time of the year, carbon monoxide is referred to as “the silent killer” because it can’t be seen or smelled, but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes. Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances. Even more die from carbon monoxide produced by idling cars. Pregnant women, infants, the elderly, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially susceptible.

Carbon monoxide is produced whenever a fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of carbon monoxide produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can result.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of unintentional poisoning death in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that non-fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for approximately 15,000 emergency department visits and nearly 500 deaths annually in the United States.

Recognize and understand the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. At moderate levels, you or your family can experience severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea, or fainting. You can even die if these levels persist for a long time. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer-term effects on your health. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not recognize that carbon monoxide poisoning could be the cause.

Prevention is the key to avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning. Free or low-cost home energy audits from qualified professionals will not only tell you how efficiency upgrades can save you money on heating and cooling costs, but the audit also requires a safety check of your home’s fuel-burning appliances which includes a carbon monoxide test. For more information on how to protect you and your family or to arrange for an energy audit of your home, please visit: