Carbon Monoxide, or CO, is a color and odorless gas that is given off by gas- or oil-powered household appliances and cars. Unfortunately, CO is toxic when inhaled and causes over 450 deaths and tens of thousands of injuries annually in the United States. The risk of CO poisoning and death are highest in times of environmental distress such as after a hurricane or winter storm. It is during these times that people often employ generators and propane heaters as a source of energy for their homes. Common sources of CO include:
- Natural gas and oil furnaces
- Portable generators
- Kerosene/portable heaters
- Gas grills
- Gas water heaters
- Gas stoves
To decrease your family’s risk of CO poisoning, it is important to use these household items safely and correctly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Carbon Monoxide Toolkit, simple steps go a long way in lowering risk of accidental CO exposure.
- Portable generators should be kept more than 20 feet from the home—garages are NOT acceptable spaces for generators.
- Every home should be equipped with battery operated carbon monoxide (CO) detectors.
- CO detectors should be installed at the height of electrical outlets (1-2 feet off the floor).
- CO detectors should be located near every sleeping area of the home and on each level of the home.
- CO detector batteries should be changed every six months to ensure they are in proper working order.
- Furnaces and gas- and oil-burning appliances should be inspected and maintained regularly.
- Gas grills should never be used as a source of heat inside a home.
In times of increased demand for energy, such as when strong storms cause local power outages, CO deaths increase. Over half of these deaths occur while the person is asleep. Following the simple steps helps decrease your family’s risk of a CO poisoning.
Reviewed by Dr. Eva Benmeleh, September 2020
- Over half of CO deaths occur while the person is asleep, usually when storms cause local power outages.
- CO detector batteries should be changed every 6 months and detectors should be located near every sleeping area of the home and on each level of the home.
- CO causes 450 deaths annually, as it is toxic when inhaled.