BransonMO – As the weather keeps getting colder and colder, many people are closing up their homes and turning on the heat. As many turn to fossil fuels to keep them warm, they may not realize the risks involved or what precautions to take before turning on those heaters. “Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that is known as the silent killer,” Branson Fire and Rescue Division Chief Ted Martin said.

Carbon monoxide can come from a variety of sources such as furnaces, heaters, stoves, generators and vehicles, according to Randy Maley, environmental public health specialist with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Maley said carbon monoxide is produced when anything burns.

“Carbon monoxide is invisible, odorless, tasteless and, in high quantities deadly,” he said.

Stone County Health Department Health Educator Kim King said now is the time to have home heating appliances checked. Not getting a yearly check is a dangerous gamble.

“If they don’t get that yearly check, then you just don’t know,” King said.

One of the best protections a person has is a carbon monoxide detector, even after having a yearly check done.

“First and foremost, invest in a carbon monoxide detector and, pay attention to it when it goes off,” she said.

King said anytime the detector goes off, a person should take that alarm serious and remember, the gas is invisible and odorless.

“Carbon monoxide detectors are similar to smoke detectors, are relatively inexpensive, and can be purchased at department or hardware stores and on-line,” said State Fire Marshal Randy Cole.

Martin said even if a person does not suspect a problem, to always exit the building and then call for help, when a carbon monoxide detector goes off.

Many things produce the gas, and homes closed up during the winter months, become dangerous.

Fossil fuels such as gasoline, natural gas, propane and kerosene all produce carbon monoxide when burned, as well as charcoal and wood. King said she heard of cases during the ice storm in January, of people bringing charcoal grills inside homes for heat.

“Don’t bring in your charcoal grill,” she said.

Gas-powered cars, boats, lawn mowers and other motorized equipment all produce carbon monoxide; even ethanol-powered and hybrid vehicles produce carbon monoxide.

Inside of homes, carbon monoxide is produced from natural gas-fueled furnaces, water heaters, clothes dryers, space heaters and gas ranges, as well as from kerosene heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves.

Early symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure includes headaches, dizziness, weakness, sleepiness, nausea and vomiting. People with heart disease may develop an irregular heartbeat. Exposure to higher concentrations can cause disorientation, coma, convulsions and death.

King said if someone begins to experience some of these symptoms, to go to a well ventilated area and call an ambulance.

“Waiting for early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is not a substitute for making sure possible carbon monoxide producing sources are working properly. If you wait for symptoms to become noticeable, it may be too late to call for help. You need to get out of the building or away from the vehicle,” said Maley.

King described the poisoning as very, very serious.

“If caught, it can cause brain damage,” she said.

In the last five years, there have been more than 3,000 illnesses and 212 deaths reported in Missouri caused by carbon monoxide. Physicians and laboratories are required to report cases of carbon monoxide poisoning to their state or local public health agency.

The Department of Human Social Services provides these precautions to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

— Be sure gas-fueled appliances are installed and used according to manufacturer’s instructions.

— Have your home heating system and chimneys, flues and vents checked each year.

— Do not burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent, for heating or cooking, not even in a fireplace.

— Do not use un-vented gas or kerosene heaters in closed spaces — especially near or in sleeping areas.

— Never leave an automobile running in a closed garage or in a garage attached to the house, even with the garage doors open.

— Do not operate any gasoline-powered engines such as mowers, weed trimmers, chainsaws, power washers, or generators, in enclosed spaces.

— Be aware that boat motors are a source of carbon monoxide; do not allow any swimming near the motor exhaust; especially keep children away from the boat motor.

— Do not leave the rear window or tailgate of a vehicle open while driving and always repair leaking exhaust pipes and mufflers on automobiles.