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Beware of Silent Killers

2010 January 7

Old Man Winter definitely has been hitting with a vengeance this season. While these spells of subfreezing temperatures and wintry mixes cause numerous problems on the nation’s roads, one of the areas of greatest risk might be in our own homes if we don’t take the right steps to protect our families.

Snow and ice storms can lead to blackouts. People often resort to portable generators to power up the house. Others use combustion appliances to stay warm. Please note, that generator exhaust is extremely toxic! These generators need to be outside, away from doors, windows, and vents. They produce carbon monoxide (CO) which builds up quickly and is deadly. Since you cannot smell, see, or taste this exhaust, this gas can buildup with tragic consequences.

Furthermore, area heaters which operate as combustion appliances also present their own environmental hazards if not used properly. These appliances that burn fuels liquid kerosene, coal, and wood have to be properly maintained and installed in order to minimize the production of toxic gases in the home such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Once again, ventilation is key!

While we’re addressing those invisible and silent killers like carbon monoxide, we cannot forget radon. It is a radioactive gas that may be present in your home. Exposure to radon causes lung cancer in non-smokers and smokers alike. In fact, EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month. The Agency recommends that homeowners and renters have their home tested for radon. Test kits are easy to use. They can be ordered online or purchased at a local hardware store.

For other suggestions on how you can do something today to protect the environment where you live, work, and play, just visit our Pick 5 page. That’s a good way to start the new year.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    January 7, 2010

    For a long time we just know constellation figure in this universe. But now, the universe moves like as acceleration. Disasters where ever you go, Technologies what ever you want, and human growth who ever you like. We must survive because universe, in history journey, hope the human in the Earth just only save this universe. Unbelieve ? Ask our histories ……….!!!!!!

  2. wade harter permalink
    January 7, 2010

    I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to live before we had electricity, natural gas, oil given the effects of this cold spell. Are we not fortunate to be living at this period of time? Wonder what holds for the next 100 years or so. Come to think of it global warming sounds very good given the present cold spell here in the USA and other parts of the world. Could it be that climate changes are just a natural phenomenom. My money is betting that it is.

  3. Larry Wallace permalink
    January 7, 2010

    Just a note to confirm your article. I had a client who moved into an existing home 90 days ago. She has been sick since she moved in. They wanted to buy windows, but I referred them to a home energy audit as a first step to diagnosing possible problems. As it turns out, they had a whole slew of problems. First, the carbon monoxide levels were beyond 50 ppm from stove, the water heater was leaking natural gas, no ventilation and finally, the relative humidity was above 70 for 12 continuous days of monitoring. We discovered a water leak under the house. After promptly getting these issues fixed, we are proud to report, she is doing fine now! It’s vitally important to “TEST” a home PRIOR to doing any caulking or sealing, less you take a chance of making the home more dangerous than it already is.

  4. edgardo berraz permalink
    January 7, 2010

    I’m very interested about radon.In my country it’s a novelty,and no much be talk over,but I prejudice than it could be one important item,therefore I were grateful for receiving aditional information.Many thanks.

  5. Al Bannet permalink
    January 8, 2010

    You’re right, climate change is a natural phenomenon, but the massive pollution produced by humanity does have an influence by making the warming trend more extreme than normal, and so the biosphere’s reaction more extreme also. If cold fresh water from the melting ice caps is interrupting the Gulf Stream then we may have another “Little Ice Age” to deal with — or maybe not, we ‘ll soon know.

  6. Lina-EPA permalink*
    January 8, 2010

    Hi, Larry
    Yes, you are right. Getting the home tested is very important. Glad to know she’s doing fine now.

  7. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    January 10, 2010

    This is a very good and timely article. Especially now. With the ecomony the way it is many people are out of work. Lots of gas and electric utilities are turning people off and many then are resorting to generators, area heaters, or even open candles for light and to stay worm. Energy assistance and things like SSI are being cut back in some places, greatly cut back. It might be a long winter and a full grave yard. People are more interested in staying warm than reading equipment directions and that can mean disaster. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  8. Juanita permalink
    January 10, 2010

    Personally, I just think that God has a sense of humor. Our nations are talking about how to tax us for global warming and He gives us cold weather all the way down to southern Florida. Yes, God IS still in control regardless of what we think about it.

  9. Lina-EPA permalink*
    January 11, 2010

    Hi, Michael
    Yes, the article turned out to be very timely. When I wrote it a couple of weeks back, I had no idea we were going to be facing a deep freeze throughout many states. And you’re right, many people resort to generators, area heaters, even open candles and they all can be deadly if not used appropriately. Thanks for commenting on our blogposts.

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