Beware of Silent Killers

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.

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