Editorial by Niagara County Department of Health Environmental Division
With the recent snowfall and potential for more blowing and drifting snow, precautionary measures should be taken to protect you and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning. Especially during the winter weather months, primary sources of carbon monoxide poisoning include blocked furnace and hot water tank vents, as well as improperly placed portable generators.
To prevent carbon monoxide buildup during heavy snow, inspect the areas around furnace and hot water heater vents to make sure all vents are clear. Some furnaces shut down if vents are blocked. If the system cannot be restarted after clearing snow, it may be necessary to call for service.
High-efficiency furnaces and some water heaters vent out of the side of homes, not the roof, and could potentially be blocked by high snowdrifts. It is important that vents are kept free and clear of snow. If the vent plugs up, carbon monoxide could vent back into the home. To help prevent this from happening, keep a 3-foot area clear by the vent and intake tubes.
A portable generator can also be a source of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use a portable generator in the home, basement or garage, even if windows are open. Place portable generators outside and away from any windows and/or doors of nearby buildings. It is recommended that portable generators be at least 25 feet from the house.
You cannot smell carbon monoxide. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include headaches, dizziness, nausea, weakness, loss of muscle control, shortness of breath, chest tightness, visual changes, sleepiness, fluttering of the heart, redness of the skin, confusion and mild behavioral effects, such as slowed reaction time or altered driving skills. Carbon monoxide poisoning should be suspected if more than one member of the family is sick, and if those who are sick feel better after being away from the area for a period of time. At high levels or during continued exposure, carbon monoxide can cause suffocation, resulting in loss of consciousness, brain damage or death. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, rapidly leave the area to get fresh air and call 911.
For more information on protecting yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning, contact the Niagara County Department of Health Environmental Division at 716-439-7444 or visit www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/air/carbon_monoxide_need_to_know.htm.