As many of us (painfully) discovered last October, Mother Nature can wreak havoc with our daily routine. Weather conditions can cause flooded basements, travel delays — and loss of electricity, sometimes for days or even weeks at a time. But during the colder months, the inconvenience (and expense) of living without power is overshadowed by the potential danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Each year, approximately 400 people die in the U.S. after inhaling carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless and odorless gas that is contained in fumes given off by furnaces, portable generators, gas stoves, and similar devices. Power outages increase the risk of CO poisoning: In an attempt to keep warm, some people run generators indoors or use stoves to help heat their homes, causing a buildup of the gas that can prove fatal. (During the October storm, a Dutchess County resident succumbed to CO poisoning while using a hibachi-style grill indoors to heat the house.)
The good news is that CO poisoning is totally preventable — provided you follow some common-sense tips. First and foremost, be sure your home is equipped with a CO detector, and that it’s working properly. Enacted last February, Amanda’s Law (named after a teenager who died from CO poisoning caused by a defective boiler) requires the installation of CO detectors in every home in New York State. Be sure you’ve got one, and that you change the batteries regularly. (If your detector isn’t battery-powered, it won’t work during a power outage, so consider switching to a different model.) The Centers for Disease Control also recommend that you have your heating system — and any other appliances in your home that use gas, oil, or charcoal — checked by a qualified technician each year. And never use any gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home — and that includes running your car in the garage, even with the door open.
“Anything that might generate heat inside your home can be a danger,” warns Dr. Michael Caldwell, the Dutchess County Commissioner of Health. “Check your CO detectors regularly, but don’t rely on them completely. Try to use common sense. Don’t take chances just to stay warm.”