Carbon monoxide poisoning: how to avoid this silent killer

We’ve all heard reports and warnings about heart disease. Health professionals refer to it as the “silent killer.” However, as the cooler months approach, another “silent killer” may be lurking: carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

Much like heart disease, carbon monoxide, produced by the incomplete burning of fuels such as natural gas, oil, kerosene and coal, can be difficult to detect or diagnose. You can’t see it, smell it or taste it. And some of the symptoms – headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting and confusion – can mimic other illnesses such as the flu. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, and more than 20,000 visit the emergency room.

CPS Energy serves more than 331,000 natural gas customers, and we want each of our customers to continue safely using natural gas. One step in preventing CO poisoning is to properly use and maintain appliances.

“Just like people are encouraged to have annual check-ups with their doctor, your natural gas heating system needs a yearly check-up, too,” says Mike Fuentes, manager of gas operations. “Your system should be serviced by a licensed and properly insured air-conditioning contractor before winter sets in.”

One quick rule-of-thumb he says customers should remember is that appliances getting adequate oxygen and adjusted properly have a blue pilot or burner flame. A yellow flame indicates improper combustion and the presence of CO.

Another important step in the prevention of CO poisoning is installing carbon monoxide detectors in areas where family members sleep. Detector batteries should be checked at least twice a year, such as in the spring or fall when you adjust the time on your clocks.

Here are a few more suggested safety checks to make your home safer this fall and winter:

  • Replace or clean furnace filters monthly, and reinstall furnace filter doors properly.
  • Leave a window open a couple of inches when using a gas space heater.
  • Never heat a room with a gas range, oven or clothes dryer.
  • Never let your car or truck idle in the garage with the garage door shut.

If you or your family suddenly experiences CO symptoms, get out of your home immediately and call the fire department at 9-1-1 and CPS Energy at 353-Help (353-4357).

If you suspect carbon monoxide in your home but are not having symptoms, open windows to ventilate the area, shut off your furnace and other fuel-burning appliances, call the fire department and CPS Energy.

And finally, if you smell natural gas, which resembles a rotten egg smell, even if it appears faint, leave the house immediately and call CPS Energy. DO NOT flip any electrical switches on or off, or use a flashlight or telephone. An electric spark or even static electricity could ignite a gas leak and cause an explosion.

Visit CPS Energy’s website to see more natural gas safety tips.

Tracy Idell Hamilton

Tracy Idell Hamilton was part of the Corporate Communications team at CPS Energy.

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