Urgent Call for Enhanced Safety Standards to Combat CO Poisoning

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Need to Know from SafeWise
  • At least 420 people die from accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in the US each year.1
  • Most CO deaths happen when the weather turns cold, with November, December, January, and February seeing over half of all CO deaths.
  • 2019 saw around 250 CO poisoning deaths—the most of any year from 2009–2019.2
  • Generators and heating systems are the top drivers of non-fire CO poisoning deaths.2

In a bid to mitigate the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, emergency response and HVACR professionals are rallying behind proposed safety standards for residential gas furnaces and boilers. Advocating for a unified approach, they've joined The National Carbon Monoxide Awareness Association (NCOAA) to urge the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to bolster the regulations that safeguard consumers, emergency responders, and maintenance personnel.

Carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless, lethal byproduct of burning carbon-based fuels (like methane gas), poses a significant threat to public health. The proposed safety standards aim to curtail CO emissions from residential furnaces and boilers—a crucial step to better safeguard individuals and families.

The danger of CO exposure

Emergency responders and HVACR professionals—inherently exposed to CO-emitting appliances due to their line of work—face heightened risks. Carbon monoxide poisoning, often misdiagnosed, inflicts severe and sometimes irreversible damage to vital organs like the heart and brain.

Carbon monoxide is deadly because it binds with red blood cells (creating carboxyhemoglobin, or COHb) and deprives your body of oxygen after passing into your lungs. From impaired vision and coordination to chronic cardiovascular complications, the spectrum of CO-induced ailments is alarming.

Here's a look at early signs of CO poisoning:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

One reason CO poisoning is often misdiagnosed is the similarity to cold or flu-like symptoms like nausea, shortness of breath, and mild headaches. Eventually, the symptoms turn lethal without treatment.

Strengthening safety standards

Professionals whose work puts them at risk of CO exposure and other experts are joining with the NCOAA to recommend the following enhancements:

  • Lower shutdown thresholds: Align shutdown/modulation thresholds with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, reflecting a COHb level of 2% for non-smokers as indicative of poisoning.
  • Tamper resistance: Implement measures to prevent tampering or deactivation of CO shut-off devices, ensuring uninterrupted safety protocols.
  • Extended restart period: Extend the restart interval to a minimum of 30 minutes during sensor failure events, providing adequate safeguards in case of CO incidents.

A unified call to action

The NCOAA and a coalition of emergency response and HVACR professionals fervently endorse implementing these safety standards. They implore the CPSC to extend similar regulations to all residential gas-burning appliances, encompassing natural gas, methane, liquefied petroleum, and propane.

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How you can help

The NCOAA is asking people to support their call for improved regulations by signing a letter to the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission. The deadline for signatures has been extended to February 17, 2024.

Read the full letter.

Proactive measures to combat CO poisoning are imperative. It's encouraging to see the collective efforts of regulatory bodies, industry professionals, and advocacy groups to support a safer living environment for everyone.

Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (CO) Prevention," January 9, 2023. Accessed February 8, 2024.
  2. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, "New CPSC Report Shows Upward Trend in Carbon Monoxide (CO) Fatalities." March 28, 2023. Accessed February 8, 2024.

Disclaimer: Portions of this article were assisted by automation technology. All content therein has been augmented, thoroughly edited, and fact-checked by our in-house editorial staff of human safety experts.

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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