Health Department: Colorless, Odorless C.O. Can Be Deadly

Health Department: Colorless, Odorless C.O. Can Be Deadly

With cold weather and associated holidays approaching, you’ll find yourself setting the thermostat on your furnace, maybe slaving over the stove a little more than normal, perhaps even firing up that wood burning stove and/or fireplace for a little ambiance.

What do all these have in common? Combustion, and the possibility of leaking carbon monoxide (CO) gas. And, if your hot water heater and clothes dryer operate on natural gas, they, too are possible sources of the dangerous CO gas. CO gas is colorless and odorless, which is what makes it so dangerous. It is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned.

Carpentersville Fire Department Lt. Brian Berry

“It’s a product of combustion from an oven or furnace, or an improperly vented hot water heater or dryer,” said Lt. Brian Berry of the Carpentersville Fire Department. Berry said problems can arise with these appliances if they are not properly maintained.

Preventing CO poisoning requires following these guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • The most important step is to install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.
  • Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated.

Berry said the effects of CO poisoning are cumulative and produce flu-like symptoms. “Prolonged exposure can lead to unconsciousness and death.” Even pets are not immune, he said.

Additionally, sources of CO gas can come from the use of a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside the home, basement, or garage or near a window. Berry also recommends never running a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open, and never try to heat your house with a gas oven.

To prevent CO poisoning it’s important to keep appliances and their vents clean and in good repair. Because of the odorless, colorless nature of CO gas, it’s crucial to have that detector in good working order. When it is activated, call 911 immediately. When the fire department arrives, they want to inspect your home and determine the cause of the detector’s activation.

“You always want to err on the side of caution,” Berry said. “We’re always happy to help.”

SOURCE: Kane County Health Department