toxic gas

Do You Have A CO Detector In Your Home?

By Lina Younes

Recently I was reading the weekly community paper and a front page story caught my attention. “CO detector saves local family.” According to the article, the local fire department station responded to a carbon monoxide (CO) detector going off in the early morning hours. The homeowners were awakened by the CO detector that detected the presence of carbon monoxide in the home. When the firefighters arrived, they found unhealthy levels of the poisonous gas in the home as a result of a broken furnace exhaust pipe which was discharging the exhaust directly into the home. Had the family not had a CO detector, the outcome of this incident would have been very different.

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide poisonings often occur as a result of people using generators in closed areas or using gas burning appliances improperly in the home. Using these appliances properly can prevent carbon monoxide poisonings. As we saw in this case, a CO detector quickly indicated unhealthy CO levels early, thus protecting the family.

Why are carbon monoxide detectors important? Well, carbon monoxide is an odorless toxic gas which you can’t see, taste or smell. Exposure to these toxic fumes at low levels can easily be mistaken for flu-like symptoms. Yet, at a higher concentration or a lengthier exposure, CO will be deadly. Detectors will quickly register unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide, thus setting an alarm. It is recommended to place these CO detectors just outside of sleeping areas so that they will alert families even while sleeping and help save them as we saw in this instance.

  • What other steps can you take to prevent carbon monoxide from entering your home?
  • Well, first and foremost, never use generators inside the home or enclosed areas
  • Keep your gas appliances properly adjusted
  • Install and use exhaust fans vented to the outdoors over gas stoves
  • If you are going to burn wood in your home, do so properly.

By taking these simple steps, you’ll have a healthier indoor environment and protect your family. Stay safe.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

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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Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During the Summer Month

By James T. Young

We don’t think about carbon monoxide poisoning as a hazard in the summer, but it is. One reason is that the practice of “cooking out” in the summer can paradoxically, become “cooking in.” Imagine this scenario. You are having a lovely Fourth of July afternoon with your children, grandchildren or friends in the backyard of your home. For weeks you’ve been promising everyone a fantastic meal, built around your “Triple Threat Burgers, beef or vegetarian, guaranteed to please.” The soaked wood chips are on the grill. The charcoal briquettes have been heated to a glowing red and the burgers have been placed on the grill, when….suddenly….it pours down rain.

Everyone rushes into the garage. Two guys quickly whisk the grill away from the storm and into the garage. Everyone claps and cheers because the famous burgers have been saved. But no one realizes that a new danger has been created: the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from burning charcoal briquettes in an enclosed space.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. These properties make it difficult for a person to detect when it is present. CO is easily absorbed through the lungs as we inhale. When CO is inhaled it enters the bloodstream and blocks oxygen from being absorbed into the body. CO poisoning can lead to damaged tissue and can result in death. In fact, carbon monoxide is the most common cause of poisoning death in the United States. It is also the most common type of fatal poisoning in many countries.

The risk of CO poisoning is of special concern to minorities. According one study, CO poisoning in the United States is more prevalent among blacks and “Hispanic whites,” than among the non-Hispanic white population. Most of the poisoning was due to “indoor burning” of charcoal briquettes. It is important to realize that charcoal briquettes give off carbon monoxide the entire time that they are hot. Do not use charcoal briquettes if you are going to grill inside an enclosed area.

Read the fact sheet on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning

About the author: James T. Young was a chemist at NIH for thirteen years before ending up a program analyst in the Public Health Service his last twelve years of government service. He has enjoyed being a SEE employee since 1995.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.