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Carbon monoxide detector law kicks in

Smell that? Probably not.

Carbon monoxide is a deadly poison gas in the air. As of Jan. 1, new single-family homes in Minnesota are being required to have carbon monoxide detectors installed.

According to the American Lung Association, exposure to a low dose of carbon monoxide can be just as harmful as a high dose in a short period of time.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused when carbon-burning appliances fail. The failure can be ventilation or maintenance.

Dr. Wade Wernecke, emergency services at St. Mary's Regional Health Center, said St. Mary's has treated some residents for carbon monoxide poisoning in the past.

He said there are five to 10 people a year coming in with concerns about poisoning, but there are only about "three to four cases a year where we have to treat poisoning."

Treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning consists of oxygen intake. One patient's carbon monoxide exposure was so severe, he was taken to Minneapolis for treatment, Wernecke said.

The problem is carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, so someone breathing in the gas wouldn't know it until they become sick. While majority of people just become sick, between 200-300 people a year die from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide causes an oxygen shortage to the brain and can lead to unclear thinking, not recognizing the warning signs.

Some of those warning signs consist of flu-like symptoms like headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and confusion. More severely, exposure can also lead to vomiting and difficulty breathing. Extreme exposure can lead to loss of consciousness, convulsions and death.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning depend on "how much they are exposed to. People get sick before they lose consciousness," Wernecke said. "Headache is the most common symptom."

Distinguishing between carbon monoxide poisoning and an average headache takes common sense.

Wernecke said, for example, if everyone in the house gets a headache, there's likely something wrong and they should come in for testing.

One way to detect carbon monoxide levels is to purchase a detector. The American Lung Association is selling carbon monoxide detectors online at a discounted price at Other carbon monoxide questions can be answered at 1-800-Lung-USA.

Some tips to avoid dangerous carbon monoxide levels include backing a running car out of the garage rather than warming it up in an attached garage, have fuel-fired appliances checked yearly, never heat a home with a clothes dryer, range or oven, and never operate gasoline-powered tools or engines indoors or attached garage.

"Preventing it would be good," Wernecke said. "People have to think to themselves, 'is there danger?'"

He said he heard of a physician who had his car running in an attached garage and died in his kitchen from the carbon monoxide seeping in.

"A (running) car in the garage and not having the door open is dangerous, things people don't think about," he said.

Carbon monoxide detectors will display the time and date and duration of carbon monoxide levels. Some detectors can also be used dually as smoke detectors.

As of Jan. 1, all new construction of single-family homes will require a detector installed. The American Lung Association urges those homes grandfathered in to install a detector as well.

Detroit Lakes Building Inspector Cal Mayfield Jr. warned that detectors can give off false readings and those installing them should do some research before doing so.

Detectors should be installed within 10 feet of each room dedicated for sleeping purposes and five feet from the floor.

"People need to be aware, that as of August 2008 all existing home shall be equipped also," Mayfield said.