Michigan health officials say that as temperatures get colder and the nights longer, residents should take action to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by checking to ensure furnaces and carbon monoxide detectors are properly working while turning back the clocks for the end of daylight saving time Sunday, Nov 6.
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a gas that forms whenever a fossil fuel is burned. CO is known as the “silent killer” as it is a colorless, odorless and tasteless poisonous gas. Most CO poisonings take place at home and are caused by items that are not properly cared for or vented, such as furnaces, water heaters, generators, gas grills, dryers, lanterns, space heaters, fireplaces, chimneys and gas stoves.
“Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure include flu-like symptoms – headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, confusion and nausea,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive. “If you think you have been exposed, it is important to get into an area with fresh air immediately and seek medical attention.”
The CDC reports that each year approximately 50,000 people across the country visit the emergency department for accidental CO poisoning. In 2019, the latest year that data are available from the Michigan Department of Health and Humas Services’ (MDHHS) Michigan Environmental Public Health Tracking Program (Michigan.gov/MiTracking), there were 1,090 Michigan emergency department visits for CO poisoning.
CO poisoning can be prevented by practicing the safety tips listed below and knowing the symptoms of exposure. At high levels, CO can cause death within minutes. If you suspect you may be experiencing CO poisoning, or your CO detector alarm goes off, go outside immediately for fresh air and then call 911.
To protect yourself and your family from CO, follow these safety tips:
- Make sure you have working CO detectors. Detectors on every level of your home, including the basement, are strongly recommended. Detectors can be purchased at most hardware and big box stores. Daylight saving time is a good time each year to replace the batteries in your detector and push the “Test” button to be sure it’s working properly.
- Change batteries every six months (fall and spring) and replace your detector every five years or according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Use a battery-powered detector where you have fuel burning devices but no electric outlets. Having a CO detector handy when using tents, cabins, RVs and boats with enclosed cabins is a good safety practice.
- Have your furnace or wood-burning stove inspected annually. Hire a professional to make sure it is functionally sound and vents properly outside the home.
- Generators should be run at a safe distance (at least 20 feet) from the home. Never run a generator in the home, garage or right next to windows or doors.
- Never run a car in an enclosed space. If a vehicle is running, you must have a door open to the outside.
- Never run a gasoline or propane heater or a grill (gas or charcoal) inside your home or in an unventilated garage. Any heating system that burns fuel produces CO.