Last year, 192 people were treated in Utah emergency departments for carbon monoxide poisoning. Four of these people died.
As temperatures continue to drop, officials from 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 the carbon monoxide poisoning and offer several tips to prevent it from happening.
Sherrie Pace, outreach coordinator for the Utah Poison Center, said about 350 calls are taken each year statewide regarding carbon monoxide poisoning. She said commonly reported symptoms include headache, 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 serious illness, brain damage, or even death,” Pace said.
Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless 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, camping lanterns and stoves, charcoal barbecues, gas stoves and furnaces. If operated incorrectly or misused, dangerous amounts of CO can build up in enclosed areas and poison people and pets.
Pace said it’s essential to install an Underwriters Laboratory-approved CO detector near sleeping areas on every floor of your home and to check the battery twice a year. Also, never let a vehicle run in an enclosed space such as a garage, even with the garage door open.
“Don’t use a gas oven to heat your home,” she said. “Never use a generator inside your home, trailer or garage.”
Pace also said it’s important to have your furnace, water heater and gas appliances inspected annually, and to also clean your fireplace’s chimney and flue annually to remove any clogs.
“If the carbon monoxide alarm goes off, don’t assume anything is wrong with the device. Instead, assume it’s working fine 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 that the flame of a gas appliance should generally be blue, with possible flecks of orange. If the flame is mostly yellow, the gas is not burning completely and releasing excess carbon monoxide.
Other gas company suggestions include:
- Forced air furnaces usually have a filter that cleans the air before heating it and circulating it throughout the house. Check the filter regularly and clean or replace it if necessary.
- When installing a new or cleaned filter, properly reinstall the furnace front panel door so that it fits snugly. Never operate the furnace without the front panel door properly in place, as hazardous gases 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 that your chimney or dryer vent is not clogged.
- Check for signs of poor ventilation, such as soot around the unit or moisture inside the windows when the unit is running.
- Vacuum the area around the furnace regularly, especially around the burner compartment, to prevent the accumulation of dust and lint.
- Use only space heaters approved by local fire codes and installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If you are using a ventless heater, always open an exterior window or 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 tip over.
- Do not use a gas stove, oven or clothes dryer for heating.
- Do not cover oven or stovetop burners with aluminum foil, as you may block a vent.
- Make sure your dryer’s exterior vent is free of lint.
- Periodically check the range drivers for carbon buildup.
If you think you have been exposed to CO poisoning, call the Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. The center is open 24 hours a day. If you have difficulty breathing or someone in the house is unconscious, call 911.