Each year, hundreds of Canadians die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Named the “silent killer”, carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, tasteless, colourless and non-irritating gas that can cause brain damage and even death. It’s impossible to detect without a carbon monoxide detector which makes preventative measures so much more important.
Know the risks
While everyone is at risk for CO poisoning, certain groups such as the elderly, infants, the unborn and people suffering from anemia, cardiovascular or respiratory problems, are more vulnerable to its effects.
Anything that burns fuels such as wood, oil, natural gas, propane, kerosene, gasoline and coal is a potential source of CO, including:
- Fireplaces, wood and coal stoves, space heaters
- Gas appliances (furnaces, ranges, ovens, water heaters, clothes dryers, etc.)
- Charcoal grills
- Car exhaust fumes
- Gas-powered lawn mowers and tools
- Cigarettes and second-hand smoke
Recognize the signs
Symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu and may include:
- Dull headache
- Shortness of breath
- Impaired motor functions
- Nausea, vomiting
- Chest pain
- Blurred vision, difficulty thinking, confusion
- Loss of consciousness
If your CO detector has sounded or if you suspect that you or someone else has CO poisoning, get outside immediately for fresh air and call 911.
Protect yourself and your loved ones from CO poisoning by taking steps to reduce the CO levels in your home:
- Install CO detectors with audible alarms in your home and garage. Detectors should be approved by the Canadian Standards Association, have long-term warranties and be easy to test and reset. Place them as close to sleeping areas as possible.
- Make sure appliances are installed and functioning as per local building codes and manufacturer instructions.
- Have your heating system, chimney and flue cleaned and inspected at least once a year by qualified technicians as certified in your province.
- Don’t use a gas appliance such as a range, oven or clothes dryer to heat your home.
- Don’t burn charcoal indoors.
- Never leave your car or lawnmower idling in a closed garage.
- Don’t operate gas-powered equipment such a generator in confined areas such as your basement or garage.
- Ensure your furnace has an adequate intake of outside air.
- Space and gas heaters should only be used in well-ventilated rooms.
Sources: Canada Safety Council, Health Canada