Carbon monoxide is the silent killer. Recently a Lincoln apartment had a carbon monoxide scare. Luckily, no one became ill.

Carbon monoxide is a deadly, colorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil kerosene, propane and natural gas.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are nausea, dizziness, weakness, muscle aches, vomiting and general weakness throughout the body. Many times these symptoms resemble the flu or food poisoning. Exposure is often mistaken for an illness.

Carbon monoxide usually will affect all occupants of the household at the same time. This may be a good way to distinguish from the flu. CO poisoning also can impair judgement.

There are some simple steps families can take to prevent the problems CO can cause.

n Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturers' instructions and local building codes. Most appliances should be installed by qualified professionals.

n Have the heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector also should check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.

n Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owner's manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.

n Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house or other building. Even with open doors and windows, such spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.

n Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL 2034 safety standard. A CO alarm can provide some added protection, but it is no substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO. Install a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Make sure the alarm cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.

n Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.

n Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.

n Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.

n Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home.

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n Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.

n Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil. Doing so blocks the combustion air flow through the appliance and can produce CO.

n During home renovations, ensure appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends one CO alarm be installed in the hallway outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area of the home. Alarms should be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions.

CO alarms may be installed into a plug-in receptacle or high on the wall. Hard wired or plug-in alarms should have battery backup. Avoid locations near heating vents or covered by furniture or draperies. CPSC does not recommend installing CO alarms in kitchens or above fuel-burning appliances.

Take time now to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide detectors would be good holiday gifts for hard-to-buy-for people if they don't have them. The time you take to purchase a carbon monoxide detector may save a life.

Lorene Bartos is an Extension educator with Lancaster County Extension of the University of Nebraska. Reach her at (402) 441-7180; 444 Cherrycreek Road, Lincoln, NE 68528; or lbartos1@unl.edu.

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