You already know it's important to have a working smoke alarm on every floor of your home and in every sleeping area, but do you also have carbon monoxide detectors? Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, invisible gas that can build up and reach poisonous concentrations in homes with poor ventilation. In the winter, when windows are closed, the risk is especially serious.
Fuel-burning appliances — ovens, space heaters, generators and engines — give off carbon monoxide. So do fires, whether controlled or accidental, and lit tobacco products. Most home CO detectors sound an alarm when the concentration of CO in the air reaches 70 parts per million for an hour. Nationwide, some 4,000 children per year go to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms caused by CO exposure from sources other than fire, and about nine children die from lethal doses.
Carbon monoxide attaches itself to hemoglobin molecules in the blood, crowding out oxygen. When saturated with carbon monoxide, the blood cannot transport oxygen to the brain. Early signs of CO poisoning include headache, nausea, dizziness and possibly drowsiness or confusion. At higher concentrations or longer exposures, a victim will lose consciousness and, if not treated, die.
How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
Half of all carbon monoxide poisoning deaths could be prevented by CO detectors available at hardware stores for approximately $20 — a small price to pay to help detect odorless, poisonous gases in the home. For a home with small children, look for a model that has a digital display, which will show relatively precise CO levels in parts per million. Install one roughly 15 feet from every fuel-burning appliance and outside every sleeping area. Check the batteries every month when you check your smoke alarm batteries.
Most cases of carbon monoxide poisoning are easy to prevent. Heating appliances should be inspected according to the manufacturer's recommended schedule to make sure they are in good working order and they burn fuel cleanly and completely, with as little residue as possible. Follow manufacturers' warnings about ventilation — many appliances must be used only in ventilated rooms, and gas-powered generators should never be used indoors. Also, don't let a car idle inside a garage, even to warm up.
Likewise, consider the exhaust from boat motors, gas-powered lawnmowers and other off-road vehicles and power tools to be a dangerous poison. Never tow a child behind any vehicle using a skateboard, scooter or skates. Boats should also be equipped with a carbon monoxide detector to protect passengers from any buildup of toxic fumes from the engine.