It’s colorless, odorless, and it can kill you! A closer look at the dangers of both Carbon Monoxide and Radon

By: Jana L. Davidson, Education Content Specialist for the Progressive Agriculture Foundation

Known as the “invisible killer,” carbon monoxide, also know as CO, is produced by burning fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, portable generators, or furnaces. When the gas builds up in enclosed spaces, people or animals who breathe it can be poisoned. In the U.S., more than 400 people die, 20,000 visit emergency rooms, and 4,000 are hospitalized annually due to carbon monoxide poisoning according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As temperatures drop and home heating is on the rise, carbon monoxide poisoning can be a hidden hazard lurking in the place you feel the safest – YOUR HOME! Winter months are a prime time for carbon monoxide poisoning as people turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warm their cars in garages. The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are often described as “flu-like” and can include headache, dizziness, blurred vision, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, difficulty breathing, chest pain, loss of consciousness, confusion and can lead to death if it goes undetected or untreated.

Your best defense against poisoning is a carbon monoxide detector. Detectors save lives and should be placed on the wall about 5 feet above the floor or up to the ceiling on each floor of your home, especially where you sleep. Avoid placing them right next to or over a fireplace or flame-producing appliance. Test your detectors regularly and replace the battery at least once a year. Other important practices to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  1. Have your furnace, water heater, and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year. If you have a chimney, check and clean it every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire is extinguished.
  2. Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
  3. Never use a gas oven for heating your home.
  4. Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of carbon monoxide can be produced in just minutes, even if doors and windows are open.
  5. Never run a car in a garage that is attached to a house, even with the garage door open; always open the door to a detached garage to let in fresh air when you run a car inside.

Like carbon monoxide, radon is also odorless, colorless, and poisonous. Therefore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designates the month of January as National Radon Action Month.  Radon exposure can cause coughing, chest pains, recurring respiratory infections, hoarseness, wheezing, difficulty breathing, lung cancer and is responsible for 21,000 deaths each year. One major difference among carbon monoxide and radon is in detection. Radon gas can only be detected by a one-time use radon test kit. These kits are easy to use and are available at your local hardware store, radon mitigation company, or online lab.

This safety message was brought to you by the Progressive Agriculture Safety Days program, working to keep children in rural communities safe from potential hazards around the farm, ranch, or at home. For additional safety information or details about hosting, volunteering, or attending a Progressive Agriculture Safety Day®, visit www.progressiveag.org or call us toll-free at 888-257-3529. Help send another child to a Progressive Agriculture Safety Day in 2021 by texting the word “SAFETYDAY” to 44321 from your smartphone.

Photo: From smoke alarms to carbon monoxide detectors, Progressive Agriculture Safety Day participants learn how these life-saving devices can keep them and their families safe.