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On November 4, 2005, Governor Romney signed "Nicole's Law", named after 7-year old Nicole Garofalo who died on January 28, 2005 when her Plymouth, MA home was filled with deadly amounts of carbon monoxide on January 24. The furnace vents had been blocked by snow during a power outage. The Board of Fire Prevention Regulations has developed the regulations (527 CMR 31.00) establishing the specific requirements of the law including the type, location, maintenance and inspection requirements for the alarms.

Download the Complete CO Consumers Guide in pdf format

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors can be used as a backup but not as a replacement for proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances. You should not choose a CO detector solely on the basis of cost; do some research on the different features available. Carbon monoxide detectors should meet Underwriters Laboratories Inc. standards, have a long-term warranty, and be easily self-tested and reset to ensure proper functioning. For maximum effectiveness during sleeping hours, carbon monoxide detectors should be placed close to sleeping areas. They should also be located in the area of your heating equipment.

If your CO detector goes off, you should:

• Make sure it is the CO detector and not the smoke alarm.
• Check to see if any member of your household is experiencing symptoms.
• If they are, get them out of the house immediately and seek medical attention.
• If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air and turn off all potential sources of CO.
• Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels.

What Are the Major Sources of CO?

Carbon monoxide is produced as a result of incomplete burning of carbon-containing fuels including coal, wood, charcoal, natural gas, and fuel oil. It can be emitted by combustion sources such as unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, furnaces, woodstoves, gas stoves, fireplaces and water heaters, automobile exhaust from attached garages, and tobacco smoke. Problems can arise as a result of improper installation, maintenance, or inadequate ventilation.

What Are the Health Effects?

Carbon monoxide interferes with the distribution of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. Depending on the amount inhaled, this gas can impede coordination, worsen cardiovascular conditions, and produce fatigue, headache, weakness, confusion, disorientation, nausea, and dizziness. Very high levels can cause death. The symptoms are sometimes confused with the flu or food poisoning. Fetuses, infants, elderly, and people with heart and respiratory illnesses are particularly at high risk for the adverse health effects of carbon monoxide. An estimated 300 people die each year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands of others end up in hospital emergency rooms.

What Can Be Done to Prevent CO Poisoning?

• Ensure that appliances are properly adjusted and working to manufacturers' instructions and local building codes.
• Obtain annual inspections for heating system, chimneys, and flues and have them cleaned by a qualified technician.
• Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
• Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
• Do not use ovens and gas ranges to heat your home.
• Do not burn charcoal inside a home, cabin, recreational vehicle, or camper.
• Make sure stoves and heaters are vented to the outside and that exhaust systems do not leak.
• Do not use unvented gas or kerosene space heaters in enclosed spaces.
• Never leave a car or lawn mower engine running in a shed or garage, or in any enclosed space.
• Make sure your furnace has adequate intake of outside air.

What If I Have Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Don't ignore symptoms, especially if more than one person is feeling them. If you think you are suffering from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, you should:

• Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows. Turn off combustion appliances and leave the house.
• Call 911 or go to an emergency room. Be sure to tell the EMT or physician that you suspect CO poisoning.

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

• Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms?
• Did everyone's symptoms appear about the same time?
• Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home?
• Has anyone inspected your appliances lately?
• Are you certain they are working properly?

Information above courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services

Safety tips in the home

  • Install CO alarms (listed by an independent testing laboratory) inside your home to provide early warning of accumulating CO.CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each separate sleeping area. If bedrooms are spaced apart, each area will need a CO alarm.
  • Call your local fire department's non-emergency number to find out what number to call if the CO alarm sounds. Post that number by your telephone(s). Make sure everyone in the household knows the difference between the fire emergency and CO emergency numbers (if there is a difference).
  • Test CO alarms at least once a month and replace CO alarms according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • CO alarms are not substitutes for smoke alarms. Know the difference between the sound of smoke alarms and CO alarms.
  • Have fuel-burning heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood and coal stoves, space or portable heaters) and chimneys inspected by a professional every year before cold weather sets in.
  • When purchasing new heating and cooking equipment, select products tested and labeled by an independent testing laboratory.
  • When using a fireplace, open the flue for adequate ventilation.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • When buying an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house.

Safety tips outside the home

  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle, generator, or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • Only use barbecue grills – which can produce CO – outside. Never use them in the home, garage or near building openings.
  • When camping, remember to use battery-powered lights in tents trailers, and motor homes.

If your CO alarm sounds

  • Immediately move to a fresh air location and call for help. Remain at the fresh air location until emergency personnel say it is ok.
  • If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries or other trouble indicators.

Information on this page reproduced with permission from the NFPA website,
2006, National Fire Protection Association. All materials on NFPA's websites are the property of the NFPA and may not be copied, reproduced, sold or distributed without the express permission of the copyright holder. Liberal use of NFPA fact sheets and news releases is allowable with attribution.