States vs. the Silent Killer

States vs. the Silent Killer

"States push to catch winter's silent killer with carbon monoxide alarms" — so said the front page of USA Today yesterday (November 29). This article brings much welcome national attention to a critical life safety issue: the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.

To date, over 30 states have enacted laws or codes requiring the installation of carbon monoxide (CO) detection devices in various residential occupancies. To see if your state is one of them, please click here. Why? Because CO truly is a silent killer – it is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and poisonous gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Equipment powered by internal combustion engines (e.g., cars, portable generators, lawn mowers, power washers) all produce carbon monoxide. And because it has no odor, color, or taste, CO is undetectable by human senses, requiring a CO alarm to sense dangerous levels and alert occupants to the problem.

Symptoms of CO poisoning at low to moderate concentrations are similar to the flu and include headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, shortness of breath, mental confusion, disorientation, and vomiting. At higher concentrations in the blood, CO can cause cognitive impairment, loss of muscle coordination, loss of consciousness, coma, and death. This insidious killer needs to be taken seriously!

NEMA continues to advocate for adoption of CO requirements in all states. And it isn't only residents in "cold weather" states that should worry – in recent years, many deaths from CO poisoning have occurred as a result of improper use of portable generators following power outages resulting from weather events, including hurricanes and winter storms. And it is always a good idea to have a CO alarm if your home has an attached garage, regardless of whether you have fossil-fuel burning appliances or heating units installed. For more information on CO and other life safety issues, please visit

As you celebrate the holiday season with family and friends, please be mindful of how precious they are to you and protect them – a CO alarm is a great gift and might just save your family someday.

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