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Carbon monoxide threat increases amid colder temperatures


Temperatures plummeted Tuesday night after an otherwise pleasant week, likely causing the heat to kick on in many Mid-Missouri homes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports carbon monoxide poisoning occurs more often in the winter when people are using gas furnaces and heaters.

January, which saw a bitter cold snap, had 30 such calls to firefighters and medics in Boone County, according to the City of Columbia's Fire and Rescue Dispatch Logs. That number was double the number of calls in December.

So far in February, authorities have responded to 18 carbon monoxide alarms, including four in the last week.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Nicolette Nye, said an increase in calls isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's likely just happening more because it's cold.

Carbon monoxide is described as "the invisible killer" because it's a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas.

Nye said more than 200 people die in the U.S. every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, with half of those deaths occurring in the home.

"If there's a high enough concentration of CO that you can't see or smell, you could go unconscious before even feeling the mild symptoms," Nye said.

To prevent this, she recommends people install a battery-operated or wired carbon monoxide detector in their homes.

"That's the only way you're ever going to know if there are lethal levels of carbon monoxide in your home is through having an alarm," Nye said.

The commission recommends people replace the batteries in carbon monoxide alarms annually and test them monthly. They should be installed on each level of the home and outside of any bedrooms or sleeping areas.

The senior manager of gas operations at Ameren Missouri, Chris Botkins, said any time gas furnaces or heaters are running more frequently, that creates a potential risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. However, he said fluctuations in weather such as this week don't pose an additional threat.

"Usually there shouldn't be any issues with the appliance coming on and off based on the changes in temperature," Botkins said.

Other safety tips from Ameren include:

  • Outdoor vents should be kept clear of any blockage such as debris, landscaping or snow
  • Check that the chimney is not blocked by dirt or bird nests
  • Open a window at least an inch when using a space heater
  • Never operate a car in a confined space or garage because the exhaust can leak into the house
  • Replace rusted vent pipes

If someone suspects carbon monoxide poisoning, they should leave the area immediately to get outside and call someone to come inspect their home.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include burning eyes, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion and shortness of breath.

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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