Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO), often called the “silent killer,” is a colorless, odorless and deadly gas that kills more than 500 Americans each year.

How is it Produced?

Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including propane, natural gas, oil, kerosene, wood, charcoal or coal. Portable generators, cars, lawn mowers and other equipment powered by internal combustion engines produce CO. The danger occurs when too much CO accumulates in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. When a person breathes in CO, the gas combines with the body’s blood and prevents it from absorbing oxygen. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death.

What are the Symptoms of CO Poisoning?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses, such as the flu. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing  symptoms.

Nicole’s Law

In 2005, Governor Mitt Romney signed "Nicole's Law," named after 7-year old Nicole Garofalo who died on January 28, 2005 when her Plymouth home was filled with deadly amounts of carbon monoxide on January 24. The furnace vents had been blocked by snow during a power outage. Nicole’s Law requires carbon monoxide detectors in homes in Massachusetts. For buildings with fossil-fuel burning equipment or enclosed parking areas, the new regulations require carbon monoxide detectors on every level of the home and within ten feet of each sleeping area and in habitable portions of basements and attics. Whichever alarm you purchase must be approved by an independent testing laboratory such as Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL). Be sure to look for the approval label when buying alarms. The CO detectors may be:

  • Battery operated with battery monitoring; or
  • Plug-ins with battery back-up; or
  • Hard-wired with battery backup; or
  • Low voltage system; or
  • Wireless, or
  • Qualified combination (smoke/carbon monoxide alarm)

Acceptable combination smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms must have simulated voice and tone alarms that clearly distinguish between the two types of emergencies. The State Building Code mandates that only photoelectric combination alarms are permitted within twenty feet of a bathroom or kitchen.

On September 6, 2006, the Board of Fire Prevention Regulations passed additional regulations requiring carbon monoxide alarms in transient residential buildings such as hotels and motels, institutional buildings such as hospitals, nursing homes and jails, and day care centers and after school programs.

The regulations allow for technical compliance options that may be more practical for larger buildings with multiple dwelling units that contain minimal or no sources of CO inside the individual units. The option allows owners to target the CO alarm protection only in those areas that could be potential sources of the CO. Examples include rooms that contain boilers, hot water heaters, central laundry areas, in addition to enclosed parking areas. This CO protection option requires hard or low voltage wiring, monitoring and certain signal transmission requirements.

Guidelines to Prevent CO Exposure

  • Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • If you suspect a problem with an appliance at any point throughout the year, play it safe and have a qualified service technician check it out.
  • Inspect and clean chimneys annually.
  • Install battery-operated CO detectors in your home and office building and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
  • If the CO detector sounds, leave the building immediately and call 911.
  • Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseous.
  • Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage or outside near a window.
  • Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
  • Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented.
  • Don't heat your house with a gas oven.
  • Make sure that your rectory, convent, retreat facility and/or other buildings where people live or work have carbon monoxide detectors installed and that they are in proper working order.

If you have any questions, please contact the Office of Risk Management.