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Stop a Silent Killer: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Monday, September 16, 2013 | 06:48am

September 18th is Carbon Monoxide Awareness Day in Tennessee

NASHVILLE – It’s a silent killer you cannot see, smell or taste. Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a gas that can be produced by use of portable heaters and generators, and is dangerous and potentially deadly if inhaled. The Tennessee Department of Health is observing Carbon Monoxide Awareness Day September 18 by reminding Tennesseans of the danger of CO poisoning.

“When cool fall and winter weather arrive, some Tennesseans may try to use portable heaters or even items like outdoor grills to keep warm indoors, and we want everyone to be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning posed by these actions,” said Craig Shepherd, MPH, REHS, RS, DAAS, director of the TDH Environmental Epidemiology and EHS-Net Programs. “Illness and death from CO poisoning are preventable if we all take steps to heat our homes and businesses safely, and use carbon monoxide detectors.”

Carbon monoxide gas can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed areas. People may be poisoned by carbon monoxide when charcoal, gas, oil or wood are burned in a poorly-ventilated area.

To prevent CO poisoning, never use a gas generator inside your home, garage, carport, basement, crawlspace or outside near a window, door or vent. A generator should only be used outdoors at least 15 feet away from buildings. It is dangerous to use a gas or kerosene heater inside a home or other building. Never use a gas range or gas oven to heat your home. Do not use a gas or charcoal grill indoors, and do not burn charcoal in your fireplace. Do not leave a vehicle running in a garage when the door is closed, and do not use power equipment in the garage.  

Carbon monoxide detectors are important in protecting against CO poisoning, and are widely available at home and hardware stores. Carbon monoxide detectors can provide an early warning before the gas reaches a dangerous level. CO poisoning often occurs when people have no idea it is happening, such as when they are sleeping. Each home or business should have at least one carbon monoxide detector.

Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and confusion. Many of these symptoms are similar to common colds or seasonal flu. Breathing high levels of carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness or even death.

If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, turn off possible sources of the gas. Any person who has been exposed to carbon monoxide should go outside to get fresh air to breathe. If someone is unconscious, open doors and windows to bring in fresh air.

For life-threatening carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911. For other questions about carbon monoxide poisoning, call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

To learn more about carbon monoxide and preventing exposure in your home, visit the TDH Healthy Homes website at

Tennessee is one of seven states to be awarded a grant from Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to begin the National Toxic Substance Incidents Program. Through this program, staff members collect information on harmful materials and work to prevent the public from coming into contact with them. These materials include chemicals, radiation and naturally- occurring matter that could cause harm to people or the environment. Learn more at

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote, and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit

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