Cold weather increases risk of carbon monoxide leaks

By Diana Hutchison

Temperatures have been dropping in Navajo County, bringing a need for more heat. Producing heat can increase exposure to carbon monoxide and high levels of carbon monoxide can bring death. Carbon monoxide cannot be seen, heard or smelled and the symptoms of poisoning can mimic the flu. The common symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

Carbon monoxide is found in the fumes that are produced when you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines like generators, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces. It can build up indoors from appliances such as a gas burning stove or oil burning lamps.

On New Years Day a family of four was discovered deceased in a cabin near Flagstaff from carbon monoxide poisoning and serves as a reminder of the potential dangers. The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office has indicated that a gas heating system malfunction was to blame. The heating system was the only gas appliance in the home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to a fire. More than 20,000 people visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized every year.

There are safety measures that can be taken to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Taylor Snowflake Fire & Medical Department Assistant Chief Bill Nelson said, “I have been on several calls where carbon monoxide was a problem.” Nelson recommends safety precautions such as installing carbon monoxide detectors in addition to smoke detectors, getting gas appliances serviced and inspected regularly, annual chimney sweeps, using kerosene heaters in well-ventilated areas and never use a gas cooking stove/oven or charcoal grill for heat indoors.

It is recommended that carbon monoxide detectors be placed on each level of your home especially near gas appliances such as heaters, stoves and clothes dryers. Nelson said, “Anything that produces heat can also produce fire or carbon monoxide.”  Gas appliances, kerosene heaters or oil burning lamps that are intended for indoor use can still produce small amounts of carbon monoxide. “If it is not burning at its optimum level then it’s putting out more pollutants,” said Nelson. That is why detectors are so vital in keeping safe.

When trying to stay warm, portable electric heaters are an option without the carbon monoxide risks but there are fire dangers. Nelson said, “You need to take extra care in the placement of electric heaters.” He recommends that when using electric heaters to be aware of its distance from household items such as furniture, drapes and carpets, and pay attention that it isn’t located where children or pets can knock it over. If there’s an extension cord being used on a portable electric heater that can also be a concern. Over time they can build up heat and become a fire danger. “Extension cords are meant to be temporary but a lot of people use them as permanent solutions,” said Nelson.

During this cold weather choose heat sources wisely and use caution. Install carbon monoxide detectors or replace the batteries in existing detectors. Keep things a safe distance away from all heat sources and if you have concerns call professionals to inspect your appliances, fireplaces, or heating systems.