Motor vehicles fill the air around us with carbon monoxide, though it is diluted by the time we inhale it.
But the colorless, tasteless and odorless fumes have proven to be especially dangerous when inhaled in high concentrations, such as inside a home.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 430 Americans die each year from accidental CO poisonings. and the gas sends an estimated 50,000 Americans to the emergency room.
During power outages, many people unknowingly put themselves at risk by using portable generators, propane stoves, furnaces, kerosene heaters and lanterns.
During this week’s polar vortex, which left millions of Americans without power, Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas treated at least 13 kids with carbon monoxide poisoning.
Symptoms of CO poisoning can be variable and nonspecific. But even though the gas is hard to detect through our senses, the CDC wants you to be aware of these warning signs:
- Chest pain
- Altered mental state
In addition, severe cases may result in the following
- Shortness of breath
- Altered mental status,
- Other neurologic symptoms
- Loss of consciousness
The CDC also laid out steps you can take to protect yourself from high concentrations of CO, like installing a battery-powered CO detector in your home.
It should be placed in a spot where it’s likely to wake you up should it activate.
Other safety recommendations include:
- Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
- Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
- If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator have an expert service it. An odor from your gas refrigerator can mean it could be leaking CO.
- When you buy gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories.
- Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly. Horizontal vent pipes for appliances, such as a water heater, should go up slightly as they go toward outdoors, as shown below. This prevents CO from leaking if the joints or pipes aren’t fitted tightly.
- Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause CO to build up inside your home or cabin.
- Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum, or something else. This kind of patch can make CO build up in your home, cabin, or camper.
- Never use a gas range or oven for heating. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a build up of CO inside your home, cabin, or camper.
- Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal – red, gray, black, or white – gives off CO.
- Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors. Using a gas camp stove indoors can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.
- Never use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent.
- When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home.
In terms of your vehicle, the CDC says to never run the engine inside a garage that’s attached to your house — even if the garage door is open.
Have a mechanic check the exhaust system of your car or truck every year, the CDC said.
This story was reported from Atlanta.