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  • Press Release

Most Americans at risk against the silent killer

January 27, 2010

NORTHBROOK, Ill., Jan. 27, 2010 - It's silent, deadly and can lurk in your home while your family sleeps. Dubbed the "silent killer," carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas that kills 500 people and sends 20,000 more to the hospital each year. While 60 percent of Americans say they are more confident they can prevent CO poisoning than a serious fall down the stairs at home, the results from a recent survey by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) tell a different story.

The safety testing organization's survey results reveal consumers may not be equipped with the right information to protect themselves and their families from the dangers of CO poisoning: 62 percent couldn't correctly detect CO poisoning symptoms, which typically result in flu-like symptoms, and 70 percent do not inspect common household sources of CO emission, such as a furnace or hot water heater, at least once a year.

Additional survey results point to the lack of general knowledge about preventing CO poisoning:

  • Sixty percent of Americans could not identify any potential signs of a CO leak in the home.
  • Only one in five Americans knew that rusting on flue pipes - one of the most telling signs - signified a risk of a CO leak.
  • Two-thirds of Americans don't know what common household items can potentially emit CO, like hot water heaters, charcoal grills, and portable generators.

"It's evident we all need to be more aware and take the necessary steps to protect our loved ones from CO poisoning," says John Drengenberg, director of Consumer Safety at UL. "You may not be able to see it, taste it or smell it, but something as simple as installing a CO alarm, knowing what to look for and what to do if your alarm sounds, could make a huge difference in helping prevent unnecessary tragedy."  


Drengenberg says that CO is produced and emitted by incomplete burning of fuel, such as propane, kerosene, gasoline, oil, natural gas, wood and charcoal; and because it is odorless and colorless, people can be exposed to CO without even knowing it. However, CO poisoning is avoidable and preventable if the necessary safety measures are taken.

UL recommends a three-part strategy that consumers can easily employ to protect themselves and their loved ones from the poisonous gas: INSPECT, PROTECT and DETECT.


Be alert to danger signs and have a qualified technician INSPECT your home once a year

  • Potential signs of CO leaks could include:
    • Streaks of carbon or soot around the service door of your fuel-burning appliances
    • Moisture collecting on the windows and walls of furnace rooms
    • Fallen soot from the fireplace or small amounts of water leaking from the base of the chimney
  • Fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, hot water heaters and stoves require yearly maintenance. Over time, appliance parts can become damaged or need replacement. A qualified technician can identify and repair product issues before they become a safety concern.
  • Avoid placing a CO alarm directly on top of or directly across from fuel-burning appliances.


PROTECT your home by purchasing and installing a CO alarm

  • Purchase and install UL-LISTED CO alarms outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement and any other locations required by applicable laws; be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions carefully before installing the alarm.
  • If you already have CO alarms installed in your home, make sure to test them monthly and replace the battery at least once a year.

Be ready to react when you DETECT a problem

  • If a CO alarm sounds, don't disable it. Immediately open windows and doors for ventilation and move to a fresh air location outdoors. Make sure everyone from inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel arrive.
  • After a CO alarm sounds, always have a professional inspect your home so the source of CO can be identified, and have it fixed immediately.
  • If anyone in the home is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning - headache, dizziness or other flu-like symptoms - immediately evacuate the house, call the fire department and seek medical attention.

About Underwriters Laboratories

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is an independent product safety certification organization that has been testing products and writing Standards for Safety for over a century. For more information, visit About UL.