As the temperature continues to dip, many folks will likely seek comfort in the warmth of their furnaces and fireplaces. Little do they know that turning up the heat may also be pumping carbon monoxide (CO) gas into their homes.
Silent but deadly, CO is an invisible, odourless, yet highly poisonous gas produced by fuel-burning items when there is not enough air available for fuels to burn completely.
CO gas displaces oxygen in the body, causing the nervous system to completely shut down.
In Ontario, more than 65 percent of all injuries and deaths from CO have occurred in homes due to a lack of regular maintenance of fuel-burning appliances.
Take the heat without the toxins this autumn by recognizing CO exposure signs and symptoms, reacting appropriately to a potential threat, and decreasing the likelihood of risk with preventative measures.
Recognize: Deadly CO gas is undetectable by humans, but its exposure to our bodies and homes leaves a trace.
Know the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning to avoid serious illnesses or fatalities:
- You experience flu-like symptoms—i.e. nausea, headache, burning eyes, confusion, drowsiness—but have no fever.
- Pets refuse to enter the building, exhibit a sore throat, behave irritably or vomit.
- The furnace keeps turning on and off.
- Chalky, white powder forms on the chimney or exhaust vent pipe.
- Soot builds up around the exhaust vent.
- Excessive moisture accumulates on your walls or windows.
- Debris falls from inside your wood-burning fireplace or chimney.
React: Your 14-year-old son has been sick for three days with the flu.
Although he has suffered through wave after wave of nausea, constant headaches, extreme fatigue and burning eyes, he has no fever, so you haven't yet called the doctor.
Noticing that moisture has accumulated on the walls and windows in his room, you recall the CO-poisoning signs and symptoms you read in this article.
What do you do next?
If you or anyone else in your home is experiencing any of these symptoms, or if you have reason to suspect CO has infiltrated your home:
- Have everyone, including pets, leave the house immediately.
- Get medical help for those with symptoms.
- Call 911 or your local fire department for emergency services.
Prevent: To protect your family from CO exposure, the most effective course of action, of course, is prevention.
Many hazardous CO incidents and potential fatalities can be simply avoided by proper maintenance of propane, fuel oil or gas appliances.
Have a qualified technician inspect your furnace, boiler, stove, heater and any other fuel-burning appliance-make repairs if necessary.
Consider replacing older appliances with new units that include enhanced safety and more energy-efficient features.
Install CO alarms on every level of your home, in all sleeping areas, as well as inside the garage, in accordance with manufacturer instructions, to warn you of rising CO levels.
Remember to test CO alarms monthly and change batteries annually.
Ensure furnace vents are not blocked from the outside by any objects or other obstructions.
Make sure warm-air outlets and cold-air returns are clear of carpets, furniture and debris.
For more information on keeping your loved ones safe from CO and other potential safety risks, visit safetyinfo.ca.