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Faulty gas furnaces can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning

Morris News Service

Colorless, odorless and poisonous, carbon monoxide kills nearly 500 Americans and causes 15,200 emergency room visits each year. Effects of carbon monoxide poisoning can include headaches, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, chest pain, confusion and, in some cases, long-lasting neurologic damage.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Consumer Product Safety Commission have issued an alert to homeowners.

Faulty gas furnaces cause more carbon monoxide poisoning than any other source, according to Dr. Howard Frumkin, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health. He cites other sources, too, such as gas appliances, gas or wood-burning stoves, fireplaces and generators, "especially when they are used in enclosed spaces."

Without adequate ventilation, "you may be exposed to excessive levels of carbon monoxide," he said.

He offered three tips for minimizing carbon monoxide exposure:

•Use a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector.

•Schedule an annual heating ventilating and air-conditioning system inspection by a qualified technician. The review should include the furnace, water heaters and any other gas, oil or coal burning system.

What should homeowners expect technicians to check?

"(That) heat exchange does not have any cracks in it. This will prevent carbon monoxide from being directly vented from the combustion process and released into the occupied space," said Glenn Hourahan, vice president for research and technology of Air Conditioning Contractors of America, which represents technicians who install, service and maintain heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment.

"They are also going to be looking directly at the flue and the venting pipes to ensure that they are sound, no rust, no corrosion, no holes and no evidence that they might soon be occurring. They will look at the burner assembly as well as the blower assembly to ensure that ... the equipment can operate properly and that complete combustion will occur," Hourahan said.

•Use generators, charcoal grills, camp stoves and other gasoline or charcoal burning devices outside only.

"That doesn't mean in the garage; it doesn't mean in the basement. It means outside the building," Frumkin said. "Cars and trucks should only be run outside of attached garages. Vehicles left running inside a garage attached to the home can cause a build-up of carbon monoxide even if the garage door is left open. Stoves and fireplaces should only be used when properly vented. Gas ovens should never be used to heat a home or an apartment."

The North American Technician Excellence program lists technicians at www.natex.org. To learn more about carbon monoxide exposure and poisoning, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site at www.cpsc.gov or call 800-638-2772.