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Colorless, odorless CO gas can prove deadly

This news story was published on December 11, 2012.
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Dec. 11, 2012 – With the cold weather coming on strong this week, Alliant Energy is reminding customers the threat of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is typically highest in the winter. Customers can be exposed to CO when heating equipment malfunctions, usually after incomplete burning of natural gas, propane, kerosene, or any other fossil fuel for heat, or when warming up a vehicle.

On Monday night, Alliant Energy responded to two separate carbon monoxide incidents in Iowa, both involved a malfunctioning furnace. It’s important to know you can’t see or smell CO. Only a special detector can alert you to a problem. Health officials recommend having CO detectors on every level of your home and within ten feet of any sleeping areas. Just as you do with smoke detectors, check and replace batteries in CO detectors too. Be sure to check local laws. Certain states and local building codes have mandatory requirements for CO detectors.

“Because the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning mimic those of the flu, victims often don’t realize the cause of their illness,” said Richard Sublett, senior manager compliance and operational performance. “Headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, disorientation, fatigue, muscle weakness, and difficulty waking are all early indicators of possible carbon monoxide poisoning.”

If you suspect CO poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Be sure to call for help before helping others. That way you don’t pass out before making that first call to alert emergency responders.

“If exposure continues over a long period of time, CO poisoning can lead to brain damage or even death. If the symptoms are not accompanied by fever, if everyone in the family is ill, or if the symptoms disappear when you leave the house, it could be CO poisoning,” added Sublett.

CO comes from poorly functioning appliances, or appliances that are either not vented or incorrectly vented. Appliances such as furnaces, space heaters, and even gas or charcoal grills all pose a threat. Outdoor equipment such as portable generators, heaters, and stoves, can create dangerous levels of CO in cabins, garages, and especially in hunting and fishing shacks.

In addition to watching out for appliances, never let a vehicle idle inside an attached garage, even with the door open. The CO from the exhaust can collect in the garage or go inside the home. A few minutes of idling inside can quickly fill the garage. Without ventilation, that CO will stay in the garage for a long time.

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