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An Echo Press Editorial: How to stop a 'silent killer'

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

EP Echo Press Editorial
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Headway is being made against a silent killer – carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be fatal. It is found in fumes produced when fuel is burned in cars, trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can build up in enclosed areas, poisoning people and animals who breathe it in.

Last month, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar held a virtual press conference to highlight the importance of preventing carbon monoxide related deaths.

Klobuchar led the bipartisan Nicholas and Zachary Burt Memorial Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act, which was signed into law in 2022. Named after two young brothers from Kimball, Minnesota who tragically passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning, the legislation will help states adopt tougher standards to ensure carbon monoxide detectors are safe and reliable.

Klobuchar was joined by carbon monoxide poisoning awareness advocate and mother to Nicholas and Zachary, Cheryl Burt, along with fire chiefs and assistant chiefs from Brooklyn Park, Duluth, Moorhead and Rochester.

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“As more Minnesotans turn on their heaters, it’s good to talk about the progress we’ve made and what we can do going forward to help prevent tragedies from carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Klobuchar. “In order to adequately address this danger, we need common sense safeguards in place. That’s why I was glad to see my bipartisan legislation — named in honor of Cheryl’s sons — signed into law.”

Klobuchar added that the law will help prevent tragic deaths by providing funding to install carbon monoxide detectors and educate the public on the dangers of carbon monoxide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 430 people in the U.S. die each year from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and approximately 50,000 people are forced to seek medical attention for accidental CO poisoning.

The risk of poisoning associated with running an automobile engine in an attached garage or burning charcoal in the house is especially dangerous.

Carbon monoxide poisoning has impacted the Douglas County area. There have been reports over the years of close calls and at least one death in the last five years.

Klobuchar’s legislation authorizes the Consumer Protection Safety Commission to provide resources to states to encourage the use of carbon monoxide detection devices and establish a federal grant program to help states carry out a carbon monoxide poisoning prevention education and awareness program.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following tips for avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in the house, and check or change its batteries every six months.
  • Never leave a car running while parked in a garage or any enclosed space. 
  • Never run a car, a generator, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement. garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open.
  • Having a qualified technician inspect and service all gas, oil, or coal burning appliances each year. 
  • Call 911 or a healthcare professional right away if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.

CenterPoint Energy offered this advice on how to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

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  • Flu-like symptoms including headaches, nausea, fatigue, confusion and dizziness that disappear when a person breathes fresh air.
  • Unusually high indoor humidity with persistent heavy condensation on walls and windows and soot or water collecting near a burner or vent can be an indication of CO.
  • Stuffy, stale or noticeably poor indoor air quality.

If you suspect CO exposure, leave the area immediately, taking your pets with you and tell others to do the same. Once you are safely away from the area, call 911 to report the suspected CO incident.

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