Carbon monoxide can be deadly

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The weather is bound to cool down soon and home owners across Northwest Colorado will fire up furnaces and wood stoves. There are some safety issues that come with heating houses.

Every year there are deaths and injuries from carbon monoxide poisoning. These are preventable. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Colorado Consumer Product Safety Team (CCPST) are urging Coloradans to schedule a professional inspection of all fuel-burning appliances to detect deadly carbon monoxide (CO) leaks.

Carbon monoxide leaks are the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States. Jane Norton, executive director of the CDPHE, believes it is critical that Coloradans get their fuel-burning appliances checked because CO is so deadly.

"In 1998 in Colorado, accidental carbon monoxide poisonings were responsible for 27 deaths and 38 hospitalizations," said Norton. "Since 1994, approximately 125 people in Colorado have died and more than 220 have been hospitalized by unintentional exposure to carbon monoxide."

Nationally, the colorless, orderless gas is responsible for 600 accidental deaths annually, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Of those poisoned by carbon monoxide in Colorado, 41 percent were overcome by malfunctioning furnaces while 20 percent were exposed to carbon monoxide from automobile exhaust.

Karen Wilkes, Greeley Gas Company manager of public affairs, believes her company has done its best to bring the potential problems of carbon monoxide to customers' attention.

"We try to keep our customers aware of the problem with regular bill inserts," said Wilkes. "We also have an emergency number in case people are concerned about carbon monoxide levels in their home or business. We will come out and check readings without charge."

Wilkes is adamant that people check gas appliances once a year and make sure ventilation is clear. It is a good policy to check the pilot flame in the appliances to make sure it is burning clean. A blue flame indicates that the appliance is burning clean while an orange flame indicates a problem. The emergency number for Greeley Gas Company is 1-800-662-6185.

According to Lori Gerzina, consumer protection manager for the State Health Department Consumer Protection Division, the most important thing when it comes to being safe with carbon monoxide is not to ignore the symptoms.

"If family members are unusually cranky, complaining of headaches and having extreme difficulty getting going in the morning, it could be due to high carbon monoxide levels," said Gerzina.

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