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Winter Danger: How To Stay Safe From 'Silent Killer,' Carbon Monoxide

With heating season underway, residents are reminded to install carbon monoxide detectors. Photo Credit: Contributed
National Institute of Standards and Technology building experts are seeking the answer to a very important home safety question: How close to a house can you operate a portable gas-powered generator without risking poisoning from carbon monoxide.
National Institute of Standards and Technology building experts are seeking the answer to a very important home safety question: How close to a house can you operate a portable gas-powered generator without risking poisoning from carbon monoxide. Video Credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology

With winter in full swing and temperatures plummeting, health officials are warning area residents to be wary of carbon monoxide, the “silent killer.”

Health officials in the tri-state area issued an alert this week cautioning of the dangers of carbon monoxide, which has been dubbed the “silent killer,” since it cannot be seen, smelled or tasted.

Officials warned that carbon monoxide can come from anything that burns fuels, especially if it is not used or vented in the right way, including furnaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters, generators, gas-powered home appliances, gas-powered tools, gas or charcoal grills, and vehicles.

Symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, dizziness, nausea, weakness, loss of muscle control, shortness of breath, chest tightness, visual changes, sleepiness, fluttering of the heart, redness of the skin, confusion and mild behavioral effects such as slowed reaction time or altered driving skills. CO poisoning should be suspected if more than one member of the family is sick and if those who are sick feel better after being away from the area for a period of time

The Department of Health said that initial symptoms may be mistaken for flu-like symptoms. Clues to identify CO poisoning include:

  • Symptoms occur or get worse shortly after turning on a fuel-burning device such as a generator or stove;
  • More than one person in the home becomes sick at the same time - it usually takes several days for the flu to pass from person to person;
  • Symptoms are brought on by being in a certain location and go away soon after leaving the area.

Rockland County Health Commissioner Patricia Schnabel Ruppert advised that there should be CO detectors on every level of one’s home and within 10 feet to the entrance of all bedrooms and sleeping areas. If the alarm ever sounds, all residents should get out of the building and into fresh air.

"Carbon monoxide poisoning can prevent the body from getting oxygen, and can cause flu-like symptoms such as nausea, headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, sleepiness, and weakness,” Ruppert said. “In large amounts, carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness, blacking out, brain damage or death.”

According to officials, steps can be taken to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning: 

  • Never use a generator or other gasoline-powered equipment, including portable flameless catalytic heaters, inside your home or garage, basement or any enclosed or semi-enclosed space even if doors and windows are open. Operate portable generators outdoors and downwind of buildings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a distance of more than 20 feet from the house window, door or vent;
  • Never use a gas range or oven for warmth;
  • Never use a charcoal grill or a barbecue grill in your home or garage;
  • Never start up or run any gasoline-powered engines (snow blowers, generators, mowers, weed trimmers, chainsaws, or other small motors) in enclosed spaces.
  • Ensure that heating systems and appliances are installed and serviced annually by qualified professionals Never use a stove or fireplace unless it is properly installed and vented. Don't patch vent pipes in your home, cabin, camper, boat, or workplace with tape or gum. Chimneys should be checked and cleaned, as needed. When renovating a home or repairing a roof, make sure that tarps or debris do not block vents and chimneys;
  • Never run your car or truck or motorcycle inside a garage that is attached to a house or in a detached garage even if the garage door is open. Remove vehicles from a garage immediately after starting them, even if the garage door is open. If you open the tailgate on a running SUV or similar vehicle, open the vents/windows to ensure air flow and exchange. If only the tailgate is open, CO from the exhaust could be pulled into the vehicle. Ensure that vehicle exhaust pipes are not blocked in or after a heavy snowstorm. Make sure vents for the furnace, stove, fireplace and dryer are clear of snow. 

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