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Carbon Monoxide Detectors-as Essential as a Smoke Detector

Carbon monoxide kills more people annually in the United States than any other type of poisoning. Find out how to protect your family and yourself.

Carbon monoxide can be present in your home without leaving a trace because it is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas. It kills more people annually in the United States than any other type of poisoning. The only side effects of carbon monoxide poison are flu-like symptoms (nausea, headaches, and lethargy) which are easily misdiagnosed or ignored. This potentially lethal gas can build up in any home that uses oil, propane, gas, wood or coal-fired appliances.�

Carbon monoxide is produced from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels when a furnace, water heater, or stove malfunctions. You can defend against carbon monoxide poisoning by inspecting and servicing your combustible appliances regularly and by installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

These detectors cost about $50 each and are designed to detect carbon monoxide in a single room or area. Ideally, a home should have one of these detectors in each bedroom, in the kitchen and in rooms located near combustible appliances (not in the same room as the appliance, however). If the detector identifies a certain level of carbon monoxide, a light will come on and an alarm will sound.�

Placing a detector in several rooms throughout your house can be expensive, although it is certainly necessary. Inexpensive carbon monoxide testing tablets are available, and can serve as temporary detectors until you can afford to outfit your home. These tablets will need to be changed according the recommendations on the packaging.

More advanced detection alarms are available. Some will sound a warning at a predetermined low level of the gas to indicate a potential problem. This alarm is useful in that it warns of low level accumulation of carbon monoxide and can prevent a more serious situation from developing. Also consider installing a battery-operated alarm that mounts on your central air cleaner. This will monitor the furnace return air from your entire house. If you have a security system in your home, a carbon monoxide alarm can probably be connected directly into the system. Battery and hardwired models are available.�

If the carbon monoxide alarm in your home does go off, leave your home immediately, and seek medical attention. Call your local fire department from a neighbor's phone. Firefighters are equipped to detect carbon monoxide, locate the source, and stop the emission of the gas.

Source: James Dulley; The Center for Hyperbaric Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Chicago.