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Heaters Bring Warmth, and Carbon Monoxide


Heaters are on full-blast this time of year, but the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) warns those warmth-generating appliances are often the cause of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Acting Director of the ACHD, Ron Vorhees, said the two main sources of carbon monoxide in the winter months are from heaters, and idling vehicles.

"If a furnace or water heater is not properly set up and it's not venting correctly, then carbon monoxide can build up," Vorhees said. "The other main thing that we're concerned about at this time is when people are idling a vehicle in a garage that's attached to the house."

ACHD reported 29 cases of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning last winter, and 20 of those were because of ill-functioning appliances. Vorhees recommended installing a carbon monoxide detector in the home and having a gas company employee check the gas lines for home appliances. 

If there is a suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, call 9-1-1 and leave the building, but Vorhees said the symptoms can be subtle.

"Some people can get a headache or dizziness because the body isn't getting enough oxygen, but sometimes  people just sort of fairly quickly lose consciousness," Vorhees said.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas.  Exposure to the gas can cause nausea, rapid heartbeat, loss of hearing, and death.  The ACHD said most of the nation's fatal cases of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning could be prevented if certain precautions, like regular furnance maintence, are taken.