Terrifying Carbon Monoxide Incidents Should Be a Reminder

Image credit: CDC OSHA Fact Sheet

Image credit: CDC OSHA Fact Sheet

Over the weekend, a NY restaurant manager quickly succumbed to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and another 28 people were rushed from the restaurant and treated for symptoms. The CO leak was serious enough that first responders felt light-headed on entering the building.

A few days later, a tragedy-in-the-making was narrowly averted at a time-share resort in Ogunquit Maine, where 21 people were poisoned by CO. You can read the scary story of a Connecticut couple who were poisoned and nearly succumbed. They experienced flu-like symptoms and lethargy. After the man passed out and broke his nose, they left their room to go to a drug store. On the way, they told the the front desk manager about their symptoms. His wise call to 9-1-1 probably saved 21 lives.

And now we hear that an Idaho family of four likely died of CO poisoning.

These experiences highlight the importance of having working CO detectors in both residences and public buildings. Every year, an estimated 400+ people die from carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands more are treated at hospitals. Often called “the silent killer,” CO is an odorless, colorless gas that can leak when fuel-burning appliances like space heaters, water heaters, and generators malfunction. It can also build up quickly when cars, grills, lawn-mowers and other fuel-burning machines are used in confined spaces.

If you don’t have one, here’s a consumer guide for How to Buy a Carbon Monoxide Detector. Here are state laws about Carbon Monoxide detectors.

Here is some advice from the New York Department of Health:

  • If you suspect that you or someone else has CO poisoning, seek fresh air immediately and call 911.
  • Schedule annual maintenance on home heating systems, including furnaces, fireplaces, chimneys and other heat sources such as non-electric hot water heaters, to ensure that they are properly-vented and maintained.
  • Install battery-powered CO alarms in your home. Check them twice a year to make sure the batteries are working properly. Checking the CO alarms when clocks are adjusted for daylight saving time is a useful way to remember.
  • Operate portable generators outdoors and downwind of buildings. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a distance of at least 25 feet from the house.
  • Never operate fuel-powered equipment or tools in a garage, basement, or any other enclosed space.
  • Never use a gas range or oven for warmth.
  • Never use a gas or charcoal barbecue grill in your home or other enclosed space.
  • Make sure that non-electric space heaters are appropriately installed and vented, and that they are routinely inspected and maintained.
  • Never run a car or truck inside any garage or structure, even with the door open.
  • Know where boat engine and generator exhaust outlets are located. Keep away from these areas if the boat is idling.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death
  • State statutes


Carbon Monoxide Safety Association

CDC information & fact sheets and FAQs