The shocking truth about carbon monoxide poisoning in winter

Canadians who use oil space heaters to heat their homes or who barbeque food in their garages are increasing their risk of fatal poisoning from carbon monoxide, according to indoor air health experts at Health Canada. Exposure to carbon monoxide is the leading cause of fatal poisonings in North America and can also be the cause of headaches, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath within a few short minutes.

“Using appliances indoors for heating during power outages or running your car in your garage during cold weather can be fatal,” says Francis Lavoie, a Health Canada biologist. “While residents can have carbon monoxide in their homes at any time of the year, the risk is greater in cold winter months because homes in Canada are usually heated by furnaces, water heaters or boilers, wood stoves and other appliances that run on fuels. If these devices are improperly installed or used, or if they malfunction, they can release carbon monoxide into the home.”

Lavoie says higher levels of carbon monoxide are produced in the winter from several sources including vehicle exhaust, fuel-burning fireplaces and cooking appliances. Recommendations to reduce the carbon monoxide level in your home include cleaning fireplaces and only using barbeques and portable stoves outside and not in the garage or home.

In Ontario alone, between 2001 and 2007, 74 residents died from asphyxia due to carbon monoxide, according to the Canada Safety Council.

Health Canada is reminding Canadians to install carbon monoxide alarms in their homes as soon as possible this winter. Remember, a smoke alarm does not detect carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide alarms are now mandatory in Ontario and the Yukon.

Known as the "silent killer”, you cannot hear, taste, see or smell carbon monoxide. By the time people have been exposed to carbon monoxide for even a few minutes, their ability to recognize their symptoms can be seriously compromised. A carbon monoxide alarm can protect you by telling you if you have carbon monoxide in your home. Health Canada has a very helpful guide to reduce exposure to home hazards called Hazardcheck. Download or order it online at healthycanadians.gc.ca/hazardcheck or call 1-800-O-Canada.


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Carol Ireland

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