The Silent Killer

24 Oct

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in the United States, claiming more than 400 lives each year.  Carbon monoxide (CO) is so deadly because you cannot smell, see, or taste it, but if inhaled at high levels it can kill a person in minutes. Fatality is highest among the elderly, fetuses, infants, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease.

Prevention is the key to avoiding CO poisoning. Below are several steps the CDC has published to reduce the risk:

  • 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 (catalytic) indoors. Although these heaters don’t have a flame, they burn gas and can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.
  • If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator’s cooling unit have an expert service it. An odor from the cooling unit of your gas refrigerator can mean you have a defect in the cooling unit. It could also be giving off CO.
  • When purchasing gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as the American Gas Association of Underwriters’ Laboratories.
  • Install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. National standards recommend that a CO alarm be placed near the bedrooms close enough to hear it when the bedroom doors are closed. If the bedrooms are not together, additional alarms will needed.

CO is produced whenever fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned – and can be produced by common household appliances. Some sources of CO poisoning can include:

  • Gas water heaters
  • Home heating systems
  • Kerosene space heaters
  • Grills, hibachis or portable gas camp stoves
  • Idling motor vehicles
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Fireplaces

The symptoms of CO poisoning can mimic the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses and you may not be inclined to think that CO poisoning could be the cause. At a low level of exposure (35-50 parts per million), shortness of breath, nausea, and headaches are common. At a moderate level (200-400 parts per million), victims experience more severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, and often become nauseated or faint. The longer the exposure of CO, the more time it takes to recover and a greater chance of death or permanent physical damage. If you think you have been exposed to Carbon Monoxide the EPA recommends that you quickly move to fresh air, seek immediate medical attention, call 911 if life-threatening symptoms are present, and then get a qualified professional to investigate and repair the source of CO before returning to the affected area.

I have had the unfortunate responsibility of investigating one such fatality in Texas, and I will never forget the sorrow I saw in the eyes of the family. Since then, this issue has been close to my heart.  As a way to give back to the community and people that have supported me, I will be offering free carbon monoxide testing to senior adults in the Friendswood and surrounding area. My goal is to help educate residents regarding the dangers of carbon monoxide
poisoning and reduce the risks of needless deaths among those who are most vulnerable.  For more information about this service or other HVAC information please contact, call 832-466-9980, or visit my website at


Dave Wilson


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