It is a toxic gas that is odorless, tasteless and invisible and it could be lurking inside your home. Anyone can be at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, which is why beginning Friday, July 1, all new and existing single family homes in San Mateo, and the rest of California, must be equipped with a functioning carbon monoxide detector. All other types of residences (apartments, condominiums, etc.) must have the alarms by January 1, 2013.
The City of San Mateo has issued guidelines of exactly what the new requirements involve.
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a silent killer, and tops the list of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with almost 500 unintentional deaths and more than 1,700 suicides related to CO poisoning. In California, up to 40 residents die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year. It is also estimated that as many as 15,000 people in the nation are treated annually for CO poisoning and many go misdiagnosed or unreported.
CO is produced when fossil fuels burn incompletely due to insufficient oxygen. Sources include common household appliances such as the furnace, water heater, gas kitchen range or cooktop, gas clothes dryer or a fireplace. Additional sources include space heaters, portable generators, charcoal grills, wood-burning stoves or a vehicle idling in a closed garage. Any malfunctions, cracks or leaks in these appliances could cause carbon monoxide to seep.
Exposure to CO results in symptoms similar to the flu, with nausea, headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, vomiting and an unusually rapid heart rate, according to the CDC. But too much exposure can kill a person in a matter of minutes.
Proper placement of a carbon monoxide detector is important. Installing the detector near all bedrooms is key to its functionality. The alarm should be located near all sleeping areas, so the alarm will sound and wake up anyone who might be sleeping when the carbon monoxide hits the air. It's recommended to have an alarm installed on each level of any multi-level home.
Homeowners can purchase a plug-in alarm for less than $30 at any home improvement store such as Home Depot or department stores such as or . Homes can also be hardwired for a CO alarm, much like a smoke alarm.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Web site lists CO alarms currently approved by the State Fire Marshall.
If the alarm sounds, residents should immediately move to fresh air and call 911.