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Should I Be Concerned About Carbon Monoxide In My Home?

Carbon monoxide, a gas produced during incomplete combustion of fuels, is an invisible, tasteless, and odorless threat to people’s health and safety. Though commonly associated with vehicle emissions and fires, carbon monoxide dangers and poisoning can accumulate in any home unless homeowners take certain precautions. It is deadly because it interferes with normal intake of oxygen for humans and other living organisms that need oxygen to live.

Symptoms of CO poisoning include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Tightness of chest
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Sleepiness
  • Vision changes or difficulty seeing
  • Redness of skin

Each year, close to 30,000 people in the U.S. suffer an accidental CO poisoning, and about 500 of them die. In fact, most of them die in their own home. Without the help of a CO detector, humans cannot detect this dangerous gas. According to findings of a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association released in 2013, CO easily passes through drywall. This porous building material used to finish ceilings and walls cannot stop the gas from seeping through.

While 25 states require residents to install a CO alarm in their homes, 10 states exempted residents without an internal CO–producing source, such as a fireplace, gas stove, or an attached garage, from installing an alarm. This move worries experts who fear that it may give people a false sense of security. Exempting certain people from having such alarms might lead to an increase in the number of accidental poisonings, especially in multi–unit buildings.

For example, if one’s neighbor brings a charcoal grill into his/her unit, carbon monoxide dangers in one’s home can begin that way. Once the gas is in the building envelope, it can get to any unit in that building. A 2002 Mecklenburg County ordinance required CO alarms in most homes; however, all–electric single and multi–unit residences without attached garages were exempt. In addition, there were no restrictions on the type of CO alarm used. Thus, many homeowners installed devices that operated by electricity only.

Mecklenburg County suffered an ice storm that cut off most of the area’s power in December of the same year. According to a CDC report, there were 124 reported cases of symptomatic CO poisoning over the subsequent days. 96.2% of the poisonings happened in homes with no reported carbon monoxide alarm.

Still, relying on people voluntarily installing CO alarms with a battery back up is not working. Shockingly, according to the CDC, only 30 percent of American homes have functioning CO alarms. Therefore, homeowners should take steps to prevent CO poisoning. These include keeping all appliances in good working order, installing working CO alarms, never using outdoor appliances indoors, and never leaving a car idle in the garage.

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