With winter fast approaching, health officials of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention are urging Mainers to take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
“More carbon monoxide poisonings happen in the winter than any other time in Maine, but we can all protect ourselves and our families by having our heating systems serviced each year, and making sure we have working carbon monoxide detectors in our homes,” said Maine Department of Health and Human Services State Health Officer Dr. Christopher Pezzullo.
In Maine, about 75 percent of all reported cases of carbon monoxide poisoning occur between November and March. Most of these poisonings are caused by home heating appliances that are not working properly or that have blocked vents. Anything that burns fuel, such as an oil or propane boiler or wood stove, produces carbon monoxide. When these appliances are not properly maintained or vented, carbon monoxide can quickly build up inside a home without anyone noticing. Carbon monoxide cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, and can be deadly. As of 2013, more than half (65%) of Maine homes had a carbon monoxide detector, indicating that many residents have already taken action to protect their families from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Portable, gas-powered generators that many Maine residents use when the power goes out can also cause severe carbon monoxide poisonings and deaths when used improperly. One portable generator can produce as much carbon monoxide gas as 100 idling cars, and can increase the chance of getting carbon monoxide poisoning by 20 to 300-fold when run in a basement or garage.
“Now is a great time to make a plan for using your generator so that you are prepared to use it safely during a storm,” said Dr. Pezzullo.
Anyone with a portable generator should have an extension cord long enough to make sure the generator can be run outside, at least 15 feet from windows or doors, and a plan for keeping the generator protected from rain, ice, and snow. Making a plan now can help residents avoid the temptation to run a generator inside a basement, garage or cellar bulkhead during a storm.
“We are also highly concerned about people who leave motors running while they work on them in garages or in buildings. This is extremely dangerous, even if windows or doors are open,” said Dr. Pezzullo. About one in eight carbon monoxide poisonings each year occur in garages, sheds or barns while people conduct engine repair or maintenance.
While the best prevention is to keep carbon monoxide from ever building up in your home or other enclosed spaces, having an electric carbon monoxide detector with a battery backup near where people sleep can save lives and is especially important when heating your home.
Facts about Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that can cause sickness, coma or death when it builds up in enclosed spaces. You can’t see, smell or taste carbon monoxide. Signs of poisoning include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion, but no fever. Carbon monoxide exposure results in more than 100 emergency department visits and between one and five deaths each year in Maine.
To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, health officials recommend the following:
Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances serviced every year.
Make sure appliance and heating exhaust vents are not blocked by snow after storms.
Use your generator outdoors in the fresh air. Make a plan so that you can run your generator at least 15 feet from windows or doors and keep it protected from rain, ice, and snow.
Make sure you have a CO detector that runs on your home’s power and has a battery back up near where people sleep. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. You can buy a detector at most hardware stores or stores that sell smoke detectors. By law, all rental units must have a CO detector. Talk to your landlord if you don’t have one in your apartment or rental house. CO detectors are also required in all newly built homes, as well as in other homes after either a major remodeling project or change of ownership.
Don’t leave vehicles or any other gas-powered motors running inside a garage, barn, or shed, even if you leave the windows and doors open.
Don’t use a charcoal grill, camp stove or other gas or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage or near a window or door.
Don’t try to heat your home with a gas oven.
If your CO alarm goes off, get out of the house right away and call 911. If you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseous seek immediate medical attention.
For data about CO poisoning in Maine: https://tracking.publichealth.maine.gov.
For more about the CO detector law: http://www.maine.gov/dps/fmo/index.htm