Beware the “silent killer” - carbon monoxide

As temperatures drop, the danger of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning begins to rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 400 Americans die each year from unintentional CO poisoning and more than 20,000 visit the emergency room. Most deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning occur during winter months.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is released any time a fossil fuel fuel is burned in vehicles, small engines, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, and even furnaces. Outdoor equipment such as portable generators and heaters can also create dangerous levels of CO when used in dormitories, cabins, sheds and other enclosed buildings. Even with the doors and windows open, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.

Church Mutual recommends the following best practices to prevent buildup of CO:

  • Have all furnaces, gas stoves and fireplaces checked annually by a qualified professional to verify they are working properly and have adequate ventilation.

  • Inspect flue pipes for rust holes, poor pipe connections, and blockages, such as a bird's nest.

  • Never use gas appliances such as ranges or ovens to heat buildings.

  • Never use portable generators inside a building or within 20 feet of any window, door, or vent.

  • Never run a vehicle inside an attached garage, and always open the door of a detached garage.

The following signs could indicate a CO problem:

  • Streaks of soot around fuel-burning appliances

  • Excess moisture found on windows, walls, or other cold surfaces

  • Excessive rust on flue pipes, other pipe connections, or appliance jacks

  • Orange or yellow flames (should be blue) in your combustion appliances

  • Small amounts of water leaking from the base of the chimney vent or flue pipe

  • Damaged or discolored bricks at the top of your chimney

A carbon monoxide detector is one of the most important devices you can use to protect yourself, your family members, guests, and employees from accidental poisoning. Church Mutual recommends installing CO detectors in all cabins, dorms, and gathering places that are equipped with gas-fueled heating or cooking units.

Carbon monoxide detectors work much like smoke alarms. They are designed to sound alerts warning occupants of high levels of carbon monoxide. Detectors are no substitute for proper maintenance and safe use of tools and equipment that can produce carbon monoxide.

The health effects of breathing in carbon monoxide depend on the concentration of CO in the air, duration of exposure, and health status of the exposed person. For most people, the first signs of exposure to low concentrations of CO include mild headache and breathlessness with moderate exercise. People with heart disease are more likely to be affected by CO, even at low concentrations.

Continued exposure can lead to flu-like symptoms, including more severe headaches, dizziness, tiredness, and nausea that could progress to confusion, irritability, and impaired judgment, memory and coordination.

CO is called the "silent killer" because if the early signs are ignored, a person could lose consciousness and become unable to escape to safety. Under certain conditions, lethal concentrations of CO have occurred within 10 minutes in the confines of a closed garage with a car engine running inside or when a portable generator is used in or near a home.

We’re here to help! For additional information or questions, contact Church Mutual Insurance Company’s Risk Control Central.

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Church Mutual Insurance Company
P.O. Box 357 | 3000 Schuster Lane | Merrill, WI 54452-0357
Telephone (800) 554-2642 or (715) 536-5577

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