Public advisory

Health Canada Reminds Canadians of the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide and How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Starting date:
December 17, 2009
Posting date:
December 17, 2009
Type of communication:
Household Items
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Physical Hazard, Poisoning Hazard, Important Safety Information
General Public
Identification number:

Each year, numerous people die, are hospitalized or become ill as a result of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Health Canada reminds Canadians of the importance of installing CO detectors in their homes, as well as the safe housekeeping practices that can help in the prevention of poisoning from this gas.

Carbon monoxide is a colourless and odourless gas that is toxic. It can interfere with the delivery of oxygen by the blood to the body. Exposure to low levels of CO can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, confusion, fatigue, and shortness of breath. High level exposure can cause impaired vision, convulsions, coma and possibly death.

While the public should always exercise caution regarding CO, the possibility of its presence in a home can increase during the cold winter months.  Houses in Canada are typically heated by furnaces, water heaters/boilers, wood stoves and other appliances that most often run on fuels, such as wood, oil, propane or natural gas. Generally, any appliance or device that burns a fuel can potentially produce CO.

By following a few safety precautions for proper maintenance, ventilation and use of your fuel-powered items and by installing CO detectors, you can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Health and safety tips on detectors:

  • Carbon monoxide detectors can detect CO levels before potentially life-threatening levels are reached. Make sure to choose detectors that bear the certification mark of an organization that is accredited by the Standards Council of Canada, such as the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC). In particular, products tested and certified against the current Canadian safety standard for CO detectors, is CAN/CSA-6.19-01 'Residential Carbon Monoxide Alarming Devices', would be labelled identifying this standard. Verify the label, visit the manufacturer's website, or ask the retailer, to find out if the detector you are considering meets this standard.
  • Follow the manufacturer's directions for installation, care, testing and replacement of the detector. Familiarize yourself with the instruction manual and the features of your detector to ensure you can hear and recognize the sound of the alarm. Manufacturers of CO detectors usually recommend replacing them every five or seven years, depending on the model.
  • At a minimum, install CO detectors in the hallway outside each sleeping area. Make sure that the detector cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.
  • A CO detector is different from a smoke detector. Ensure to have both CO detectors and smoke detectors available in your home.
  • Test your detectors regularly, and for battery-powered detectors, follow the manufacturer's instructions for battery replacement.

How to prevent the build-up of carbon monoxide:

  • Have fuel-burning heating equipment exhaust vent pipes and chimney flues inspected every year by a qualified service technician.
  • During and after a snow storm, inspect the exhaust vents for the dryer, furnace, wood burning or gas stove, fireplace and heat recovery ventilator to ensure they are not obstructed by snow build-up.
  • When using a wood burning fireplace, open both the flue and fresh air intake for adequate ventilation.
  • Never operate a generator indoors. Always operate generators in well-ventilated locations outdoors, away from doors, windows and inlet vent openings.
  • Do not let cars or other vehicles idle in the garage, especially when the garage door is closed.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed area. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for safe use in enclosed areas.
  • Never run gas-powered equipment such as snow blowers or lawn mowers in the garage.
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent. Also, non-vented fuel-burning appliances that are designed for outdoor use such as barbecues and grills should be used only outdoors.
  • Never use a gas appliance, such as a range, oven or clothes dryer to heat your home.

What to do if the CO alarm sounds:

  • Leave your home immediately and move to fresh air. Do not try to locate the source of CO.
  • Once you are outside the home, call your emergency services, fire department or 911.
  • Do not return to your home until the source of CO has been identified by a professional and the problem has been corrected.

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