Carbon monoxide (CO) is a clear, odorless gas that is a by-product of combustion of fuels like natural gas, liquid propane (LP), coal, oil and wood. It is poisonous to humans and pets. Each year, more than 10,000 Americans are disabled by accidental exposure to carbon monoxide. Between 1992 and 1996, the number of non-fire CO poisoning deaths (excluding death by motor vehicle exhaust) averaged about 544 per year.
The majority of CO poisoning deaths were connected with the use of household heating systems.1 Other consumer products that contribute to CO poisoning deaths include charcoal grills, gas water heaters, camping equipment, and gas ranges. Between 1994 and 1998, approximately 10,600 people were treated in hospital for CO poisoning injuries associated only with consumer products. Therefore, it is important to have heating systems and other gas appliances inspected annually not only for efficiency but more importantly for safety.
Installing Your CO Detector
Homes with gas heating systems should have CO detectors, clear and simple. A detector should be placed on each level of your home and especially near bedrooms or sleeping areas. CO detectors can be mounted at any height and should be placed at least 20 feet away from any fuel burning appliances, and at least 10 feet away from kitchens and bathrooms. If your CO alarm is triggered exit the house immediately and call emergency services. Do not re-enter the home until a professional has completed a thorough inspection for the source of the excess CO.
Testing Your Carbon Monoxide Detector
It is now possible to determine if your CO detector is working by using a special testing device found at local hardware stores. These devices simulate carbon monoxide by using a small tablet that when moistened releases a non-toxic gas. If the detector is working properly the alarm will should go off.
With regular inspections of your gas burning appliances and heating systems and the installation of a carbon monoxide detector, death and injury from CO poisoning can be prevented.
1 Estimates of Non-fire CO Poisoning Deaths and Injuries; Executive Summary; U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission; June 1999