This summer, my friend Maureen Karstetter lost her father to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Maureen said she remembers that her father had multiple carbon monoxide detectors installed in their home when she was growing up, because the family heated the home using natural gas.
Unfortunately, Maureen’s story is not that uncommon.
Each year, hundreds of people die of carbon monoxide poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5,149 deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning occurred in the United States between 1999 and 2010.
Coal-fired heat is one of the most common sources of carbon monoxide; other sources include natural gas heat, a wood burning stove, a pellet stove, a propane tank or a pool heater. All sources of combustion produce carbon monoxide and need appropriate ventilation or venting. As people rely on alternative heat sources due to the high costs of oil and gas, this adds to the potential of accidental carbon monoxide death.
Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer. It’s odorless, colorless and tasteless, and many times the only symptoms are headaches, nausea, dizziness and confusion. Typically, the first noticeable symptoms are headache and dry mouth. If you hear your carbon monoxide detector alarm or if you experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your home, cabin or apartment for fresh air immediately.
Luckily, carbon monoxide detectors are easy to use and can detect exposure potential, as they measure the amount of carbon monoxide in the environment. Manufacturers recommend that you plug them into an outlet in the lower half of the room of your home or cabin, especially in the areas where members of your family sleep.
In the event of a power outage, when many carbon monoxide accidents happen, do not use a portable heater inside your home or garage, certainly not without significant ventilation, and never bring a gas grill inside.
If Maureen’s father’s passing could have one positive outcome, it would be to help others prevent the loss that she and her family experienced.
I urge you to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home, apartment, condo, trailer, cabin or other dwelling. If you cannot afford one, contact your local fire department to see if you may qualify for a free one.
Legislation has been proposed to mandate carbon monoxide detectors in apartment buildings and condominiums, but until then, we must take matters into our own hands.