Winter months see increased risk of CO poisoning; Take precautions with CO-detector

By Haylee Pence

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MIAMI VALLEY — Carbon monoxide (CO) is referred to as the “invisible killer.” The gas is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, which makes it difficult to notice its presence. According to the US Fire Administration, more than 150 people die from CO poisoning each year. Consumer products to be watchful for include generators, furnaces, stoves, and water heaters. These are all fuel-burning products that can produce carbon monoxide if not working properly or vented correctly.

During the winter months, there is an increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning due to the “increased usage of gas-fired heaters and generators,” according to former Covington Fire Chief Bill Westfall. “When these items aren’t properly vented, it leads to a build-up of CO in the house.”

Carbon monoxide is produced mostly by incomplete combustion. Combustion occurs when a carbon-based material reacts with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide, heat, and other products. Incomplete combustion occurs when there is limited oxygen available, and carbon monoxide is produced instead of carbon dioxide. When products aren’t properly vented, they can’t receive the proper amount of oxygen.

The symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu when CO levels are low or in the beginning of exposure. These symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, and a headache. As exposure time increases or the levels increase, the symptoms change to include vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, mental confusion, loss of consciousness, and finally death.

Westfall stated, “People just don’t even know sometimes because the winter months make it more difficult to detect when people are already sick and snuffling.”

People can protect themselves through the use of a “good-working CO detector” and to “make sure they’re functioning.” Westfall wants to remind residents to “change the batteries” and “replace the detectors every 5-7 years based on the manufacturer’s guide.”

In Covington, the Fire Department and Marias Technology paired together to help donate CO detectors to children to place in the homes. Westfall was “thankful” to the company to donate funds in order to purchase the detectors.

Local fire departments are willing and able to help any in need of assistance in installing and checking their detectors. Westfall said that “the majority of calls we receive on detectors are because the batteries need replaced.”

“Check those batteries! Hit the test button once a month if you can to protect yourselves and your families,” Westfall said.