sealPurdue News

October 1999

Check home air quality for dangerous gas

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- As the cold weather sets in, you welcome the warmth of your furnace or gas-log fireplace, but they may also bring a silent, invisible killer into your home.

Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of improper combustion of some fuels, has been associated with the death of more than 200 people in this country each year. The poisonous gas also sends nearly 10,000 people to hospital emergency rooms annually for treatment. Oct. 25-31 is National Combustion Gases/Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week.

Household appliances that burn natural or LP gas, kerosene, oil, coal, or wood can produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct, according to Cathy Burwell, Purdue University Extension Service specialist in water quality and environment in the School of Consumer and Family Sciences. The odorless, colorless gas can be produced by furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers and some space heaters.

"Carbon monoxide poisoning is especially hazardous, because its initial symptoms can be likened to those of the flu," Burwell says. "Many people have no idea that their headaches, fatigue and nausea may be a result of carbon monoxide poisoning."

Other symptoms associated with carbon monoxide poisoning include shortness of breath and dizziness. She says exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide can cause death.

Burwell suggests that a qualified technician inspect the heating equipment, including the unit, chimney, flues and vents, each year. Part of the inspection should include a check for adequate ventilation to appliances. "A supply of fresh air is important so that pollutants from the combustion process are carried away," she says.

This is not a do-it-yourself job, Burwell says. She says air quality inspections can be done by certified heating and air conditioning technicians as well as by some gas utility inspectors.

As an added protection throughout the year, homeowners may want to invest in a carbon monoxide detector. These detectors, similar to smoke detectors, make a loud noise when carbon monoxide is present.

She says carbon monoxide detectors should meet current Underwriters Laboratories standards and are available at most hardware stores. Prices range from $20 to $50. The higher-priced models include a readout that displays the level of gas present.

CONTACT: Burwell, (765) 494-8252; e-mail,

Compiled by Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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