Carbon monoxide: The silent killer
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a very real threat to anyone who uses natural gas in their home. We all know that in theory, but a recent experience really brought that lesson home for me.
The carbon monoxide detector in my house started going off, but I didn’t smell gas. I put in fresh batteries, but the alarm kept sounding. After that, I called on someone who was sure to know what to do – I called the head of the Public Service Commission’s Gas Pipeline Safety Division. She advised me to call my natural gas utility.
The utility promptly sent out a technician, who found a small gas leak. He repaired the leak and made sure my carbon monoxide detectors were still functioning properly. The issue was quickly resolved and I am safer for it.
You probably don’t have a gas safety expert on speed dial, so that’s why I felt the urgency to share my experience with you. It is the time of year when the nights are getting cooler and people are lighting their furnaces for the first time this season. Knowing how to prevent gas leaks and what to do if one occurs can literally be a matter of life or death. Learn to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure because it can sneak up on you. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. Breathing it can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath. If you don’t get to fresh air soon enough, it can cause you to collapse and lose consciousness, and can ultimately lead to death.
If your carbon monoxide detectors are triggered get out of the house and call 911 and your gas company. If you smell gas, get out of your house without turning on any electric switches and call the gas company. If someone is suffering from symptoms that might be carbon monoxide exposure, get them to fresh air and call 911.
Of course, prevention is best. Check that all natural gas appliances are operating properly and are correctly vented. Keep vents clear of any obstructions. Always keep flammable substances or materials far away from any gas appliance. Have those appliances professionally inspected every year. When it snows, keep your gas meter clear of snow and ice.
And by all means, install carbon monoxide detectors and gas detectors. They may provide the only warning you get to protect you from a silent killer.
(Lane is chair of the West Virginia Public Service Commission)