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The tragic deaths of Woodstock OPP Constable Laurie Hawkins and her family in November, 2008, have raised the public’s awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide.

Carbon Monoxide (also called CO) is a poisonous gas that you cannot see, smell or taste and is the cause of some 15,000 cases of accidental poisoning as well as several hundred deaths each year in North America. It is often referred to as the “silent killer”. Household, gas powered appliances such as furnaces and oven ranges as well as fireplaces and attached garages are all possible sources of CO within the home. CO is produced by the incomplete burning of such fuels as natural gas, propane, heating oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal, gasoline or wood. Improperly installed or poorly maintained appliances that run on these fuels may create unsafe levels of CO. In enclosed spaces such as your home or cottage even a small amount of CO is dangerous.

The Amherstburg Fire Department recommends annual inspections and maintenance of all fuel-burning appliances, venting systems and chimneys by a qualified service technician. Regularly maintained appliances that are properly ventilated should not produce hazardous levels of CO.

Conditions that can create a CO hazard include:

  • Fuel-burning appliances, venting systems and chimneys that have not been serviced and maintained regularly by a qualified service technician.
  • A chimney blocked by a squirrel or bird’s nest, snow, ice or other debris.
  • Improper venting of a furnace or cracked furnace heat exchanger.
  • Exhaust fumes seeping into your home from a vehicle running in an attached garage.
  • Improper use of portable heaters.
  • Using fuel-burning appliances designed for outdoor use (barbecues, lanterns, chainsaws, lawnmowers, snow blowers) in an enclosed area such as a garage or workshop.
  • Combustion gases spilling into a home if too much air is being consumed by a fireplace or exhausted by kitchen/bathroom fans in a tightly sealed house.

CO Alarms are not a substitute for the care and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances. Regular maintenance by a qualified technician and safe use of this equipment are key activities to help prevent a carbon monoxide hazard.

Exposure to CO can cause flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning eyes, confusion, drowsiness and even loss of consciousness. In very severe cases, CO poisoning can cause brain damage and even death. The elderly, children and people with respiratory or heart conditions may be particularly sensitive to CO.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms (Detectors) typically utilize one of three sensing technologies to detect the presence of CO. These technologies are known as Biomimetic, Metal Oxide Semiconductor (M.O.S.) and Electrochemical. A significant amount of information in the form of periodicals, videos, reports from various watchdog groups, scientists etc. have been collected. This information has been reviewed and it indicates that the electrochemical sensor technology used in some CO Alarms has proven to be the most reliable and accurate. When one manufacturer was asked why his company makes different models using both M.O.S. and Electrochemical technology, he replied that M.O.S. technology has a tendency to drift in sensitivity and that it has a history or poor accuracy. This manufacturer further stated that the public demanded a reliable product, thus his company initiated making a model that used Electrochemical technology. Additionally, this technology is expected to be the one used in future production of CO Alarms.

The Amherstburg Fire Department recommends the purchase of Carbon Monoxide Detectors using the electrochemical technology. Although this type of technology is more expensive than many of the other types on the market it has greater value for reliability and life safety. This level of accuracy will provide homeowners with an added measure of safety by alerting them to the presence of CO before dangerous levels are reached. Consumers should be aware that some manufacturers do not list on their packaging the type of sensing technology used. Consumers should also be aware that detectors manufactured after October 1, 1998 comply with the latest UL Standard 2034 and International Approval Supplement (IAS)6-96. The major change reflects the low level concentration and duration threshold which will reduce false activations.

The Amherstburg Fire Department agrees with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in recommending that every home have at least one carbon monoxide alarm located near the sleeping area. Additional alarms on every level and in every bedroom provide an extra measure of safety. The detector can be installed at any height in your home from floor to ceiling.

The Amherstburg Fire Department recommends that you read the manufacturer’s instructions that are enclosed with each detector.