Carbon monoxide (CO) is known as the silent killer, because it is an invisible, tasteless and odourless gas that can be deadly. CO is produced when fuels such as propane, gasoline, natural gas, heating oil or wood do not burn completely in fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, generators and vehicles.
Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week runs from Nov. 1-7; its purpose is to educate the public about the dangers of CO poisoning.
John Percy, public education officer for Waterloo Fire Rescue, says that “in Ontario, more than 65 per cent of injuries and deaths from CO occur in the home. We want to make sure everyone is safe from CO.”
Some ways to prevent CO poisoning are keeping furnace vents clear during and after storms and making sure nothing is obstructing the outside vent for your clothes dryer. Do not run vehicle engines in closed areas. Schedule regular maintenance on fuel-burning devices. Keep fireplaces clean and well vented and install CO alarms.
CO alarms sound different than a fire alarm and it is recommended to have one on each floor of a house. Batteries need to be checked and kept handy in case of a power outage.
“If you have carbon monoxide in your home and you don’t have a detector, you will die, it’s that simple,” said Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman. “We wanted to make sure that each year, as we go into the heating season, that we remind people that if you don’t have one (a CO detector), get one. And if you have one, make sure it’s working and not outdated.”
Hardeman was the MPP who sponsored the private member’s bill that made CO detectors mandatory in Ontario homes in 2013. He repeatedly pushed the bill in the Ontario legislature after OPP Constable Laurie Hawkins, her husband Richard, daughter Cassandra and son Jordan died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas fireplace in their Woodstock, Ont., home in November 2008.
It is important to know the signs of CO poisoning. Exposure to CO is most commonly accompanied by headaches, dizziness, nausea, flu-like symptoms, shortness of breath, confusion, vomiting, and fainting among other symptoms.
If someone is suspected of having CO poisoning, they should be taken to the hospital emergency department immediately, particularly if several people in the household are affected, or if pets are affected as well.