A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the silent killer, properly working detectors, devices, can save lives

With recent temperatures below freezing, the Department for Public Health (DPH), within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), wants to remind residents to take action to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning (CO).

“Carbon monoxide poisonings are more likely during colder weather, so it is very important that Kentucky residents make sure their heating sources and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order,”  said Rebecca Gillis, director of the DPH Division of Public Health Protection and Safety.

Number of carbon monoxide poisoning emergency department visits, by Kentucky county. Source: Kentucky’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Program (click to enlarge).

Since 2011, Kentucky law has required CO detectors in newly constructed one and two-family dwellings, townhomes less than three stories, apartment buildings, dormitories, adult/child care facilities and assisted living facilities which contain a fuel-burning-appliance or an attached garage.

In Kentucky, carbon monoxide poisoning sends over 200 people per year to the emergency room, according to data from the Kentucky’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Program. Data from the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program tells us that an average of 17 Kentuckians die every year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. These deaths and trips to the emergency room for carbon monoxide poisoning are preventable when people are prepared.

DPH’s mission is to improve the health and safety of people in Kentucky through prevention, promotion and protection. Officials at DPH strongly encourage residents to follow these guidelines below to prevent injury, illness or death:

Carbon Monoxide Safety

• Make sure you have working carbon monoxide detectors. Be sure to replace the batteries in your detector yearly and push the “Test” button to make certain it is working properly. Replace your detector every five years or according to manufacturer’s instructions.

• Have your furnace or wood-burning stove inspected annually. Hire a professional to make sure it is functionally sound and vents properly outside the home.

Woman installing 9 volt battery in smoke detector (courtesy of the CDC).

• Never run a gasoline or propane heater or grill (gas or charcoal) inside your home or in an unventilated garage. Any heating system that burns fuel produces carbon monoxide. Use a battery-powered detector where you have fuel burning devices but no electric outlets, such as in tents, cabins, RVs, hunting blinds and boats with enclosed cabins.

• Generators should be run at a safe distance (at least 20-25 feet) from the home. Never run a generator in the home or garage, or right next to windows or doors.

• Never run a car in an enclosed space. If a vehicle is running, you must have a door open to the outside.

At high levels, carbon monoxide can cause death within minutes. Symptoms of overexposure to carbon monoxide include headache, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea and confusion. If you suspect you may be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning, or your detector sounds an alarm, head outside immediately for fresh air and call 911.

More information about carbon monoxide poisoning can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website  and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Kentucky’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Network (EPHTN) was created in 2002 and is one of 26 CDC funded sites.

With this funding, Kentucky has created a robust health and environmental data portal that informs consumers, communities, public health practitioners, researchers and policy makers on chronic diseases and related environmental hazards and population exposures.

Kentucky’s data portal, EnviroHealthLink.org has Kentucky specific information on such topics as radon, social vulnerability, injury and mortality, air and water quality and much more. This data can being used for research, grant writing, student project/papers, strategic planning, needs assessments.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is home to most of the state’s human services and healthcare programs. CHFS is one of the largest agencies in state government, with nearly 8,000 full- and part-time employees located across the Commonwealth focused on improving the lives and health of Kentuckians.


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