Poorly Maintained or Malfunctioning Heating Systems Are Often to Blame
PITTSBURGH – As another heating season begins, the Allegheny County Health Department is reminding residents about the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“We recommend that everyone be sure that all heaters and other fuel-burning devices are working properly. Installing carbon monoxide detectors can also help detect a problem before it can cause poisoning,” said Acting Health Director Dr. Ron Voorhees.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that is the by-product of incomplete combustion of a fuel. Hundreds die each year nationwide from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, but most deaths could be prevented through greater awareness and education.
Twenty-nine accidental poisonings were reported countywide during the last heating season, October 1, 2011 through May 31, 2012. Twenty poisonings were associated with heating systems, five involved vehicles left running in enclosed spaces and four were fire-related.
Common sources of carbon monoxide are a malfunctioning or incorrectly vented furnace, hot water heater, space heater, fireplace, cooking stove or other type of fuel-burning equipment. Misusing a charcoal grill or a cooking stove to warm a house and leaving a car, van or truck running in an attached or integral garage are other possible carbon monoxide sources.
Furnaces and fireplaces should be cleaned and inspected before each heating season. Carbon monoxide detectors can help as well, but are no substitute for regular furnace maintenance.
Carbon monoxide poisoning may include any of the following symptoms: headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, loss of hearing, blurry vision, vomiting, disorientation, seizures, loss of consciousness, coma, respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. Anyone who experiences symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning should leave the premises and immediately call 911.
Everyone is at risk, but individuals with health problems such as heart or lung diseases, the elderly, infants, children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable.
The Health Department is offering a free brochure entitled “What You Should Know To Protect Your Family From Carbon Monoxide.” The brochure is available from the Allegheny County Health Department by calling 412-687-ACHD (2243) or visit the Health Department's website.
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