Carbon monoxide: The invisible hazard in your home

TOPEKA – The arrival of colder weather means more homes will be turning up the heat with fuel-burning appliances. These appliances include furnaces, ovens, space heaters, generators, indoor grills and fireplaces, and they can unknowingly cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) to build up in the home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children younger than 5 years old have the highest estimated rate of CO related visits to the emergency room each year among all age groups in the United States. Nationally, more than 25 children die from CO poisoning every year. In Kansas, over 500 people have been hospitalized and four people have died from CO poisoning over the past 10 years.

danger-display“Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless,” said Cherie Sage, Safe Kids Kansas. “The symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to those of common winter ailments, like the flu. So, without a CO detector in your home, your family can be poisoned without even realizing its happening.”

“We encourage Kansans to install carbon monoxide alarms in their homes and remind them of their importance,” said Kansas State Fire Marshal Doug Jorgensen. “Having a working CO alarm is just as important as having a smoke alarm, and these devices will provide the best protection for early detection.”

“The harmful effects of carbon monoxide strike rapidly and can be deadly,” said Tom Langer, director of the Bureau of Environmental Health, Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “So, it’s important to have working CO detectors in your home to alert you of this invisible danger before it’s too late.”

Carbon monoxide detectors cost approximately $20 and can be purchased at most hardware and retail stores.

Here are some tips to protect your family from CO poisoning:

  • Prevent CO buildup in the first place – make sure heating appliances are in good working order and used only in well-ventilated areas.
  • Don’t run a car engine in the garage, even with the garage doors open. If you need to warm up your vehicle, move it outside first.
  • Install a CO alarm outside every sleeping area, on every level of your home and at least 15 feet away from every fuel-burning appliance.
  • When you check your smoke alarm batteries each month, check the batteries on your CO alarms at the same time – and replace the batteries twice a year.
  • Never use an oven for heating.
  • Portable generators must be used outside for proper ventilation. They cannot be used indoors or inside of a garage.
  • Have all gas, oil or coal burning appliances inspected by a technician every year to ensure they’re working correctly and are properly ventilated.
  • If more than one person in the home suddenly feels ill for no apparent reason, or if a CO alarm goes off, get everyone outside immediately and call 911 from a pre-arranged meeting place.

For more information about CO poisoning, visit http://www.kdheks.gov/beh/carbon_monoxide.htm and www.safekids.org, or call the Poison Control Hotline at 800-222-1222.

Information provided by Kansas Department of Health and Environment.


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