CPSC Urges Seasonal Heating Systems Inspections to Prevent CO Deaths
WASHINGTON, D.C. - As the weather turns colder throughout much of the country, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urges consumers to have a professional inspection of all fuel-burning heating systems - including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, water heaters and space heaters - to detect potentially deadly carbon monoxide (CO) leaks.
Under certain conditions, all appliances that burn fuels can leak deadly CO. These fuels include kerosene; oil; coal; both natural and liquefied petroleum gas; and wood.
"Having a professional inspection of your fuel-burning heating appliances is the first line of defense against the silent killer, carbon monoxide poisoning," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton.
CO is a colorless, odorless gas that can be produced by burning any fuel. The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to flu, and include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. Exposure to high levels of CO can cause death.
"Each year, CO poisoning from heating systems and water heaters kills about 160 people in the U.S.," said Stratton. "Many of these tragedies could be prevented by having a professional check your heating system and water heater annually for CO leaks."
CPSC recommends that the yearly professional inspection include checking chimneys, flues and vents for leakage and blockage by debris. Birds, other animals and insects sometimes nest in vents and block exhaust gases, causing the gases to enter the home. In addition, all vents to furnaces, water heaters, boilers and other fuel-burning heating appliances should be checked to make sure they are not loose or disconnected.
Also, have your appliances inspected for gas leaks and adequate ventilation. A supply of fresh air is important to help carry pollutants up the chimney, stovepipe or flue, and is necessary for the complete combustion of any fuel. Never block ventilation air openings. Also, make sure the appliance is operating on the fuel that it is designed to use. To convert an appliance to burn propane, it must be modified by a professional.
CPSC recommends that every home have at least one CO alarm that meets one of these standards: Canadian Standards Association 6.19-01, 2001; Underwriters Laboratories Inc. 2034, Second Edition, October 1998; or the International Approval Services 6-96, Second Edition, June 1, 1998.
In 1998, CPSC worked with the furnace and boiler industry and the manufacturers of high-temperature plastic vent (HTPV) pipes to conduct a vent pipe recall program. The program's purpose is to replace, free of charge, an estimated 250,000 HTPV pipe systems attached to gas or propane furnaces or boilers in consumers' homes. The HTPV pipes could crack or separate at the joints and leak CO. Consumers should call the HTPV pipe recall hotline toll-free at (800) 758-3688, between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. ET, seven days a week, to verify whether their appliance venting systems are subject to this program.
CPSC continues to work with the furnace industry to develop new technologies to address the hazards of CO poisoning and fire. Results include a voluntary furnace standard that added blocked-vent shut-off devices to protect against blocked vent pipes and chimneys, and vented heater requirements to guard against a vent pipe becoming separated from the furnace. Both of these conditions could lead to CO poisonings. Also, all gas-fired furnaces manufactured since 1987 have flame roll-out protection technology that prevents flames from spilling out of the furnace's combustion chamber and starting a fire.