Carbon monoxide: tasteless, odorless silent, winter killer

Posted: Monday, October 20, 2003

Fire danger isn't the only risk that increases with mounting use of heating devices in the winter months.

Carbon monoxide also can be a problem associated with appliances, especially those involving natural gas or propane.

"Carbon monoxide is one of the byproducts of incomplete combustion," said Central Emergency Services Fire Marshal Gary Hale. "It's one of our silent killers. You can't see it, you can't smell it, you can't taste it, but it's there."

Exposure to the gas can cause flu-like symptoms, including headaches, fatigue and nausea, he said. It can be fatal.

One way to tell that the symptoms are caused by poisoning rather than common winter ailments is that they will go away when the person leaves the gas-laden environment, even by stepping outside for a few moments.

There are several ways residents can protect themselves from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, Hale said.

One is simply by being aware of the danger. Anyone who has symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning should call an area fire department, Hale said.

CES, as well as Kenai and Nikiski fire departments, have monitoring equipment to detect the source of carbon monoxide leaks. If the departments are called on a carbon monoxide case, firefighters and an ambulance will respond to check the house and find the problem.

They also will notify service providers such as Enstar and AmeriGas.

Residents themselves also should take responsibility for protecting themselves and their loved ones from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. All heating and gas appliances should receive regular maintenance and should be used in manufacturer-approved manners.

Propane heaters should not be used indoors because they give off toxic fumes, and gas cooking stoves should not be used for heat, Hale said.

Finally, Hale said, there are many carbon monoxide detectors on the market today that can warn residents of dangers in their homes.

Soldotna is one of the first cities to mandate that all new buildings with sleeping areas have carbon monoxide detectors, Hale said. And though not required in older homes or those outside the city, the detectors can be lifesaving devices in any home, he said.

One common misconception about carbon monoxide detectors is that they should be placed near smoke detectors.

In fact, because carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, they should be placed anywhere from the level of electrical sockets to the ceiling.

Hale also recommended residents read and keep their owner's manuals for detectors.

"When we go on a call, that would be one of the first things we ask: 'Do you still have your manual?'" he said.

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