Stop carbon monoxide poisoning with alarms, checkups

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published November 13, 2018

 People should place carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of their home.

People should place carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of their home.

Photo by David Wallace

METRO DETROIT — Colorless, odorless and tasteless, carbon monoxide is a toxic gas known as the “silent killer.”

As temperatures dip, now is the time when many Michigan homes are switching on appliances and consumer products that, when improperly operated and vented, can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Improperly burned oil, propane, natural gas, wood, charcoal, gasoline, kerosene and diesel are the main culprits of carbon monoxide poisoning. The majority of such instances occur during the months of December, January and February, when furnaces are on and buildings are more airtight.

Charles Crews, vice president of gas operations for Consumers Energy, said in a press release that carbon monoxide can be deadly and is the leading cause of unintentional poisoning in the U.S., and Gov. Rick Snyder recently declared Nov. 5-11 Carbon Monoxide Safety and Awareness Week in Michigan.

Shelby Township Fire Chief Jim Swinkowski said the biggest problem his department sees with furnaces is that the burners and coils in older models can crack — especially this time of year.

“Your furnace will not burn efficiently, and that’s how you get that buildup of carbon monoxide,” Swinkowski said. “When you turn on your furnace every year, you should have a trained technician come out and clean the furnace, clean the burners and check for any damage that happened over the summer while it was sitting there.”

He added that the best way to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning is to install carbon monoxide detectors in the home.

“It’s important to have them on each floor, especially by the bedrooms,” he said. “And make sure you check the carbon monoxide detectors and change the batteries.”

Swinkowski said signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include if all family members have headaches or are waking up with headaches, flushed or cherry-red skin, and nausea.

“Especially during the cold days in the winter when you have the furnace, water heater and everything running, (there might be a carbon monoxide buildup) if you are getting a lot of headaches and have nausea that doesn’t appear to be the flu,” he said.

Other common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, stinging or burning of the eyes, vomiting, and confusion. Prolonged exposure can cause loss of consciousness and even death.

Jim Cook, Royal Oak’s assistant fire chief, cautioned homeowners to be careful when using hot water heaters, dryers and anything that uses natural gas as a heating element.

“Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of burning gas, so the key is to try to (install carbon monoxide detectors) wherever that may be,” Cook said. “As far as prevention, it’s important to just be careful when you cook and make sure stoves are turned off after you use them.”

He said the Royal Oak Fire Department has responded to elevated carbon monoxide levels in commercial buildings where big hot water tanks were not being vented properly or where something was clogged.

Anyone experiencing symptoms who suspects carbon monoxide poisoning should leave the affected building immediately, call 911 and stay out of the building until it is cleared by a qualified professional, according to a joint press release from DTE Energy and Consumers Energy.

Other tips include changing or cleaning furnace air filters monthly during the heating season; inspecting chimneys and vent pipes regularly to make sure they are free from obstructions; keeping generators at least 25 feet away from enclosed areas, away from entryways, and never in a basement, garage or enclosed porch; avoiding using a gas stove or charcoal grill to heat a room; and never leaving a heater or fireplace unattended.

For more information about carbon monoxide safety, visit consumersenergy.com/cosafety or dteenergy.com.