At least six people died from carbon monoxide poisoning since a massive snowstorm swept through the East Coast last week. The deaths included 23-year-old Sasha Bonilla, a New Jersey mother, and her 1-year old son who died while sitting in a running car that had its tailpipe covered in snow.
Bonilla's 3-year old daughter, who was found in critical condition in the carbon-monoxide filled car, died on Jan. 27. The kids' dad was shoveling snow just steps away when he found his family unconscious.
Know as a "silent killer," CO is found in the fumes created when fuel burning equipment like cars, stoves, BBQ grills, fireplaces, and water heaters are used. It can't can't be seen or smelled. The gas is poisonous and can be fatal for anyone who inhales it, although the elderly, infants, and chronically sick are more at risk.
Each year more than 400 people die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most common symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion, according to the CDC. The CO poisoning symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you have symptoms that you think could be the result of CO poisoning, leave the area immediately, and call 911 or go to the emergency room.
People who are sleeping can die from CO poisoning before they become aware of any symptoms. There are steps you can take to keep you and your family safer from the risk of poisoning.
Take a look at safety tips from the CDC and nonprofit child safety organization KidsandCars.org that you can use all year-round:
CO Tips for the Car:
- Annually take your car to a mechanic to have the exhaust system inspected -- small leaks can lead to trouble inside of the car.
- Never run your car inside of the garage, even with the garage door open.
- When opening the tailgate on your vehicles, make sure vents or windows are open to allow CO from the exhaust to circulate and not get trapped inside of the vehicle.
- When inclement weather strikes, make sure the tailpipe of your car is not blocked with snow, ice, or other debris and don't allow others to wait in the vehicle while clearing snow from around the car.
- Be careful with keyless or press-to-start vehicles as even if the key fob is indoors, the vehicle outside could be running.
- Make sure children are not playing near the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle and always keep vehicles locked with keys out of reach of children who may want to play inside.
CO Tips for the Home:
- Install -- and monitor -- a battery-operated CO detector in your home and be sure to place it somewhere where it will wake you if it goes off. These should be replaced every five years.
- Annually service your heating systems by a professional to ensure fuels are burning properly.
- Check your chimney each year as built up debris can cause blockage and in turn allow CO to build up in your house.
- Don't use portable gas stoves designed for outdoor camping inside your home and don't burn charcoal indoors.
- If you have a generator anywhere in your home, make sure it is less than 20 feet from a ventilation system like a door or a window.