AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine health officials are urging residents to heat their homes safely this winter after a rash of carbon monoxide poisonings.
Since November, seven people have been hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Malfunctioning home heating sources were behind five of the poisonings.
Two people were poisoned while working in their garages, one from exhaust that had built up while working on a car engine and the other from space heaters.
Most poisonings are caused by home heating systems or appliances that aren’t working properly or have blocked vents. Anything that burns fuel — such as an oil or propane boiler or wood stove — produces carbon monoxide. Without proper maintenance or ventilation, the tasteless, invisible and odorless gas can build up inside a home without residents noticing.
“The cases we have seen so far this season reflect what our data continue to tell us are the biggest risks for carbon monoxide poisoning,” Maine CDC Director Dr. Sheila Pinette said in a press release.
In Maine, about 75 percent of all reported cases of carbon monoxide poisoning occur between November and March. About one in five cases each year occurs in garages, sheds or barns while people conduct engine repair or maintenance.
“We are also highly concerned about people who leave motors running while they work on them in garages or in out buildings,” Pinette said in the release. “This is extremely dangerous, even if windows or doors are open.”
In another recent incident, a carbon monoxide detector alerted a family to the presence of the poisonous gas coming from a wood stove, allowing them to get out of their home safely, according to the release.
The overwhelming majority of poisonings reported to Maine CDC involve areas where no carbon monoxide detectors are present, the release stated.
“Having an electric carbon monoxide detector with a battery backup near where people sleep can save lives and is especially important when heating your home,” Pinette said. “But it is even more important to keep carbon monoxide from ever building up in your home.”
Pinette urged residents to make sure heating systems are running safely, check flues for nests or other blockages, and avoid running engines in garages. She also encouraged people to put fresh batteries in their carbon monoxide detectors or purchase a detector.
“These are the best things you can do to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning this winter,” she said in the release.
Facts about carbon monoxide from the Maine CDC:
Carbon monoxide is a gas that can cause sickness, coma or death when it builds up in enclosed spaces. It can’t be seen, smelled or tasted. Warning signs of poisoning include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion, but no fever.
Carbon monoxide exposure results in more than 100 emergency department visits each year in Maine. Nearly half, or 46 percent, of Maine homes are without a carbon monoxide detector, leaving residents without adequate protection against carbon monoxide poisoning.
To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, health officials recommend the following:
- Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas-, oil-, or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
- Don’t leave vehicles or any other gas-powered motors running inside a garage or other enclosed space, even if you leave the windows and doors open.
- Don’t use a gas-powered generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gas- or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window or door. Generators should be placed more than 15 feet away from your home when running.
- Don’t try to heat your home with a gas oven.
- Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector that runs on your home’s electricity and has a battery back-up. Place them near where people sleep. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. Most hardware stores and retailers that sell smoke detectors also stock carbon monoxide detectors. By law, all rental units must have a carbon monoxide detector — talk to your landlord if you don’t. Detectors are also required in all newly built homes, as well as in other homes after either a major remodeling project or change of ownership.
If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, leave your house immediately and call 911. Get prompt medical attention if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and feel dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.