How to Silently Kill the Silent Killer

Odorless, colorless and tasteless, carbon monoxide is called the “Silent Killer,” and is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While often considered a “cold weather state” hazard, CO poisoning can strike anyone at anytime, anywhere. The California Air Resources Board reports that each year, CO poisoning sends up to 700 Californians to the emergency room, and results in up to thousands of avoidable illnesses. Initial symptoms mimic the flu and can include dizziness, headache, nausea and disorientation.

California’s fourth annual Carbon Monoxide (CO) Awareness Week begins November 7, and the California Safe Homes Coalition is urging families to help protect themselves from this deadly gas.

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“There have been instances in California when people had flu-like symptoms, but felt considerably better after leaving their house. That doesn’t happen with the flu, so it is a tell-tale sign that they may have had CO poisoning,” said Kevin Nida, president of the California State Firefighters’ Association (CSFA). 

Along with the CSFA, other Coalition supporters include AARP, Kidde, as well as nonprofit organizations and health and safety advocates.   

According to the Coalition, U.S. Census data shows 74 percent of California households use some form of fossil fuel, such as natural gas, fuel oil, or kerosene as a heat source — all of which generate carbon monoxide. 

When fuel-burning appliances, like a furnace or water heater, malfunction or are improperly vented, the gas can quickly build up in the home. 

Running a generator or other gas-powered engine inside an attached garage or enclosed space also can cause CO poisoning.

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The Coalition informs that a new state law will help prevent future incidents by requiring CO alarms in most California homes. It goes into effect next year. But Coalition members remind consumers: protect your family today.

“Carbon monoxide alarms are available throughout California,” said Chris Rovenstine, director of marketing and sales for Kidde, a leading manufacturer of residential fire safety products.

“Installation is simple. Some plug into an electrical outlet, while others mount on a wall.  Combination models, like the Intelligent Alarm, offer protection from fire and CO in one unit.”

When choosing an alarm, it is suggested to look for the “UL-listed” logo to certify that it meets third-party standards. CO alarms can cost less than $20 each.

In addition to installing CO alarms, the Coalition offers these safety tips:

  • Never leave your car running in an attached garage or carport.
  • Never use ovens or stoves to heat your home.
  • Never use charcoal or gas grills inside or operate one outdoors near a window where fumes could seep inside.
  • Install and operate fuel-burning appliances according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Have them and a home’s heating system inspected annually by a licensed professional.
  • Keep chimneys clear of animal nests, leaves and residue. Have all fireplaces cleaned and inspected annually.
  • Do not block or seal shut the exhaust flues or ducts used by water heaters, ranges and clothes dryers.
  • Test CO alarms monthly and replace batteries at least twice a year.  
  • Replace CO alarms every five to seven years.

To learn more about carbon monoxide safety or for additional information on CO Awareness Week, visit

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