WVU experts say beware of carbon monoxide hazards at home

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – January is the leading month for carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Jim Helmkamp, Ph.D., director of the West Virginia University Injury Control Research Center. Kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves and gas furnaces are among the household appliances that produce the odorless, colorless and deadly gas.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Web site states that about 170 people in the United States die every year as a result of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.  Helmkamp estimates about five deaths a year are related to unintentional poisoning in West Virginia.

“You can’t see it. You can’t smell it, unlike other gases. It’s a silent killer because many times people are overcome with the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning when they are sleeping,” Helmkamp said.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen over the course of a few days or even weeks.

The symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, headache and nausea. Victims often mistake their symptoms for the flu.

The CPSC estimates that portable heaters, stoves and lanterns cause 30 deaths and 450 injuries to people in tents, campers and vehicles annually. Others die from carbon monoxide exposure for other reasons, such as cars left running in garages.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns people to put generators outside and never place them in the home, garage, crawl space, sheds or other similar areas. Its Web site states that deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in these areas and linger for hours, even after the generator has been turned off.

Installing carbon monoxide detectors in the home is a useful step to prevent poisoning.

“While it is recommended that carbon monoxide detectors be positioned in your home and outside living spaces such as bedrooms, one should not totally rely on them as sole means to detect carbon monoxide,” Helmkamp said.

Helmkamp also suggests having household appliances checked by a technician annually.

To watch a two-part video report produced at WVU about carbon monoxide poisoning see http://www.health.wvu.edu/newsinfo/health-reports.aspx.

For federal government information on carbon monoxide poisoning see http://www.epa.gov/iaq/co.html, http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/466.html or http://www.cdc.gov/co/default.htm.


For more information:
Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
EL, LS, MM: 01-21-09

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