CO is often called a silent killer - it is an odorless, invisible gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled. CO can be produced by any device or appliance that burns fuel such as gasoline, kerosene, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, or methane, and CO can build up rapidly in enclosed and partially enclosed spaces. Potential CO sources include generators, charcoal and gas grills, gas stoves, oil and gas fired furnaces, fireplaces, space heaters, and motor vehicles.
If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly with adequate ventilation, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result. Many CO poisoning incidents occur in winter when existing heating sources are inadequate, unavailable or malfunctioning, and during power outages following disasters such as hurricanes and ice storms. Injuries and deaths due to CO exposure are completely preventable.
According to DHEC data, from 1999 to 2009, 48 people in South Carolina died due to unintentional exposure to CO (not including those who died from CO poisoning as a result of house fires).
Take the following steps to protect you and your loved ones from CO poisoning:
- Have your gas or oil fired heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
- Have your chimney, fireplace, and wood stoves, and flues inspected before every heating season and have chimneys and flues repaired as needed.
- Install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
- If the CO detector alarm sounds, leave your home or affected area immediately and call 911.
- Ventilate the room every time you use a kerosene space heater, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions and safety precautions for any space heater.
- NEVER use a portable generator, charcoal or gas grill, camp stove, improperly vented heater, or other gas or coal burning device inside your home, basement, or garage, or outside near an open window or door.
- Do not use your oven for heating your home.
- Do not leave your vehicle's engine running in an enclosed or attached garage. If you must warm up a vehicle, move it out of the garage immediately after starting.
- If conditions in your home are too cold and unsafe, seek shelter with friends, relatives, or a winter weather shelter in your area.
- Do not expose pets and farm animals to CO.
- Be aware of CO exposure risks at work, school, church, and other places away from home.
- Recognize CO poisoning. Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.
- If CO poisoning is suspected, move everyone to an area with fresh air and call 911 and the Palmetto Poison Center (1-800-222-1222).
For more information on CO and CO poisoning prevention, please see the following: