November 7, 2011

Fall Back and Change the Batteries

Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. Get a detector; keep it working; and read this checklist for what to look out for.

Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday, November 6th. That means along with setting the clocks back one hour, it's time to change the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector. And if you don't have a carbon monoxide detector, it's a good time to buy one. It might save your life.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that's odorless as well as colorless. Without a detector, there's no way to tell that it's building up until it's too late.

Many poisonings occur during power outages, when people use gasoline-powered generators or burn other fuels inside the house that they normally don't.

Some carbon monoxide is produced whenever fuel is burned. Outdoors, it can disperse. Indoors, it doesn't and can build up to toxic levels when fuel burning appliances malfunction. A faulty heater was behind the CO poisoning death of tennis player Vitas Guerulaitis. Many poisonings occur during power outages, when people use gasoline-powered generators or burn other fuels inside the house that they normally don't, such as charcoal or wood. The CDC estimates that over 400 people die a year from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Detectors can prevent these deaths, but only if people remember to change the batteries and keep them working. And just as people forget their keys, they forget to change the batteries. So changing them when you set the clocks back in the fall and ahead in the spring is an easy way to take care of that problem.

Carbon monoxide detectors are great insurance but they're no substitute for having fireplaces and fuel burning appliances – including furnaces, water heaters, ranges, ovens and wood stoves – inspected by a trained professional every year.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea and confusion. Anyone who suspects that they have been poisoned by carbon monoxide should immediately go outdoors into the fresh air and then call 911.

Most deaths from carbon monoxide are preventable. Some tips to prevent them are:

  • Don’t run or idle the car in a garage — even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up very quickly.
  • Don’t use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
  • Don’t ever use a charcoal grill indoors — even in a fireplace.
  • Don’t use gasoline-powered engines (generators, mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers or chain saws) in enclosed spaces.
  • Never ignore the alarm on a carbon monoxide detector when it goes off.
  • Woodstoves should be properly ventilated; wood smoke in a closed-up home can also cause CO poisoning.

More information about carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide detectors is available at the CDC and EPA websites.

NOTE: We regret that we cannot answer personal medical questions.
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