Heating season increases carbon monoxide poisoning risk

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Nov. 23, 2015, at 8:50 a.m.
During the past week, the Maine Emergency Management Agency issued two safety tips, each involving carbon monoxide detectors.

As colder weather sets in, Maine emergency management officials want consumers to be sure they have an early warning system in case of a buildup of carbon monoxide. Any heating appliance can release carbon monoxide. If it reaches dangerous levels, our human senses will not detect this colorless, odorless and tasteless gas.

Placement of the detectors is key. They should be in a central location outside each sleeping area of your home. If bedrooms are widely spaced, each area should have a carbon monoxide detector.

The agency also urges prompt action when the detectors sound an alarm. Maine Emergency Management Agency advises getting quickly to a place where there’s plenty of fresh air — probably outdoors — and staying there until emergency personnel say it’s safe to return.

Having emergency phone numbers near the phone also is critical, in case someone in your home is in trouble.

False alarms used to be common in older carbon monoxide detectors. As technology has improved, they’ve become less of a problem. It’s important to know what different sounds from a detector mean. Short beeps at regular intervals might indicate it’s time to replace the battery instead of a carbon monoxide problem. Periodic beeping might also indicate the detector is coming to the end of its useful life.

Many detectors contain an electrochemical cell that reacts when carbon monoxide is present. The chemical can degrade over time, making the detector less reliable. That’s why Underwriters Laboratories set a national standard that requires manufacturers to build in a system to alert consumers when a detector gets to the point where it can no longer detect harmful levels of carbon monoxide.

At the end of its useful life, the detector will chirp or make another sound to alert the consumer it’s time to buy a replacement. That also is a feature of smoke and heat detectors, which also are a must for staying safe.

Jake Johnson of the Bangor Fire Department says those types of detectors should also be replaced regularly; he says it’s good practice to buy new ones every 10 years.

Pushing the “test” button will sound an alarm showing that the detector has power and that the alarm works. Johnson says that sound does not necessarily mean the sensor is still reliable.

Some fire departments have smoke detectors available for people who cannot afford them. Jake Johnson says department members are more than willing to install them.

“We want to make sure if we’re giving these things out that they’re in the right place and that they work,” he said.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a lot of information about carbon monoxide at cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Carbon-Monoxide-Information-Center/Carbon-Monoxide-Questions-and-Answers-/.

If you have questions about either type of detector, call your local fire department.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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