State urges residents to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

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A carbon monoxide poisoning detector.

Wayne State University/Michigan Poison & Drug Information Center

A carbon monoxide poisoning detector.

Capital News Service 

LANSING – The Department of Health and Human Services is pushing Michigan residents to install carbon monoxide detectors in their homes to prevent deaths.

Carbon monoxide, otherwise known by its chemical formula CO, is a gas that forms when fuel burns. Its presence can’t be identified by taste, sight or smell, giving it its nickname of “the silent killer.”

According to the department, 452 people were hospitalized for CO poisoning in Michigan from 2016 to 2019. Annually, roughly 100,000 people nationwide seek emergency department care due to accidental CO poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The department reported 672 emergency department visits for CO poisoning in Michigan in 2020, the latest figures available.

Earlier this month, the importance of such warnings was emphasized after a couple in Fruitport Township experienced CO poisoning when they were unaware that a generator in their garage was emitting the gas into their home. 

A 64-year-old man died on the scene and a 62-year-old woman was hospitalized in critical condition, according to news reports.

And in September, a Brighton family experienced CO poisoning after the gas leaked into their home from a pool heater. Five people and five animals were in the home at the time and all the people were taken to a hospital. 

Most CO poisonings in homes are caused by improper installation, maintenance or ventilation of fuel-burning appliances, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Furnaces, water heaters, generators, gas grills, dryers and space heaters are among the most common sources of CO.

“The tricky part with carbon monoxide poisoning is that you can’t see it, you can’t smell it. It can be a low dose, it can be a high dose. In all cases, it can be a little bit different,” said Brighton Area Fire Authority chief Michael O’Brian. 

“For us, it’s just making sure that people have good quality equipment that’s regularly maintained,” O’Brian said.

The state agency stated people who suspect they may be experiencing CO poisoning or whose CO detector goes off, should go outside immediately for fresh air and then call 911. 

Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, confusion and nausea. 

“If you do think that you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide or if you are having those symptoms, the most important thing to do is to get fresh air right away,” Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive, said. 

“Even if it’s cold, open all of your windows, go outside and call 911,” she said. “…I’d rather that we prevent carbon monoxide leaks from the beginning and utilize those detectors in as many areas as possible, rather than having folks wait for the signs and symptoms.”

State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer stressed the importance of CO detectors, saying, “It is imperative that you have a functioning CO detector on every level of your home and near every sleeping area.”

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