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Alarms, maintenance can prevent carbon monoxide deaths

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States. The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that in just five years (2002-2006), 92 Minnesotans died from unintentional exposure to this colorless, tasteless, od...

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States.

The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that in just five years (2002-2006), 92 Minnesotans died from unintentional exposure to this colorless, tasteless, odorless gas. Prevention of CO deaths, according to State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl, is a matter of knowledge, maintenance and adequate warning.

Carbon monoxide is commonly associated with car exhaust, but any inefficient or malfunctioning fuel-burning device can produce CO, including gas furnaces, water heaters and power generators.

In homes without CO alarms, the poison gas can accumulate without warning to a lethal level.

Minnesota statute requires newly-constructed, single- and multi-family dwellings built on or after January 1, 2007 to have a UL-listed CO alarm within 10 feet of each bedroom. The same law applies to existing single-family homes as of August 1, 2008, and to existing multi-dwelling units as of August 1, 2009.

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Residents should follow manufacturers' instructions on routine maintenance and plan to replace alarms every five to seven years.

CO alarms are essential, Rosendahl says, and so is maintenance on fuel-burning appliances. They should be checked regularly to be sure they are burning efficiently.

"While you can smell vehicle exhaust," he said, "it is possible to have carbon monoxide present without knowing it, so alarms and maintenance are absolutely your best defense."

If your CO alarm goes off, you should leave your home or building immediately and call 911 from outside. Tell the dispatcher if anyone displays signs of CO poisoning; they include headache, nausea and drowsiness.

More serious signs are nausea, chest pain, seizures or coma. Pregnant women and people with histories of heart disease or stroke are at greater risk from CO poisoning.

The Minnesota Poison Control System, the State Fire Marshal Division and the Minnesota Department of Health are working together to reduce deaths and injuries from CO exposure.

For information on the CO alarm law, visit http://www.fire.state.mn.us/ or call the 24-hour Minnesota Poison Control System hotline at 1-800-222-2222.

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