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Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning at home

(NC) While most of us equate the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning only to cold winter months when furnaces and fireplaces are in peak demand, this silent killer is a threat year-round.

Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels such as wood, gas, oil and propane, is dubbed a silent killer because it's colourless, odourless and tasteless. The only safe way for humans to detect its presence is with an approved carbon monoxide alarm.

But despite ongoing educational efforts by safety organizations, there have already been cases this year of lives that have nearly been lost due to CO exposure in several provinces. Even as warmer weather arrives, the risk remains.

Retired Ontario firefighter John Gignac knows firsthand the deadly consequences of carbon monoxide. In late 2008 he lost his niece, her husband and their two children to CO poisoning due to a blocked chimney vent. The family didn't have a carbon monoxide alarm. Gignac established a national charitable foundation in their memory.

“People need to take this threat seriously and realize that it comes from sources beyond just furnaces and fireplaces. Year-round we use gas stoves and water heaters and park vehicles in garages and attached carports. Never let down your guard,” advises Gignac.

While the average home has several potential sources of the deadly gas, studies show that many don't have a CO alarm installed.

“People think they don't need a carbon monoxide alarm because they have electric heat and no fireplace,” Gignac says. “But when I ask them if they have a gas stove or water heater, or attached garage or carport, they realize their families have been at risk for years.”

Protect your home and family by having a licensed inspector check heating systems and other fuel-burning appliances annually. At minimum, install one CO alarm outside all sleeping areas if your home has any fuel-burning devices. Ontario and the Yukon have laws requiring this.

Finally, be sure to replace CO alarms according to manufacturer instructions, whether battery powered, plug-in or hardwired. Like smoke alarms, they do not last forever.

Find more safety tips at

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