November 4, 2013 – As New Yorkers turned back their clocks this weekend, they were also reminded to change the batteries in their carbon monoxide and smoke detectors to help protect themselves from carbon monoxide, an odorless, poisonous gas that can cause serious illness and death. Exposure to carbon monoxide can happen year round, but the risk for carbon monoxide poisoning increases during the heating season (Oct 1 – May 31), when people begin using home heating systems. During this time of year, there’s a greater chance of a heating system malfunction that could release carbon monoxide into a home, or residents may decide to use stoves or other unsafe heating sources to stay warm. The best ways to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning are to make sure your home’s fuel-burning equipment is operating properly, to never use gas stoves or portable gas heaters indoors to heat your home, and to install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors as required by law.
“Early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, nausea, and sleepiness. If carbon monoxide levels are high enough, it can kill,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “Older adults, children and people with chronic illnesses are most at risk. All residential building owners must maintain and operate heating systems safely, which includes providing and installing a working carbon monoxide detector to tenants. Residents should also remember to change the batteries in the detectors twice a year when we reset our clocks for daylight savings time.”
Each year between 2005 and 2010, carbon monoxide exposure was responsible for about 370 emergency department visits and 50 hospitalizations in NYC. Nearly 70 percent of these exposures occurred in the home. During the same period, 7 people died from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not related to fires. The NYC Poison Control Center also receives roughly 1,300 calls annually for suspected carbon monoxide exposure. In cases where possible sources of exposure were identified, at least 25 percent were from fuel-burning equipment and appliances in the home such as boilers and stoves, with potential carbon monoxide exposures from fire accounting for most of the rest.
Carbon monoxide is a natural byproduct of combustion and is emitted whenever heating oil, natural gas, gasoline, wood and other combustible materials burn. When appliances and equipment are not well maintained, carbon monoxide gas can escape into living spaces through leaks in chimneys, ducts and other building parts. This is why it’s important that boilers, hot water heaters and other fuel-burning equipment be properly maintained and vented, which will keep carbon monoxide out of homes. Dangerous carbon monoxide exposure can also occur from using gas stoves for heat, or portable gas heaters or generators indoors.
“As the weather gets colder, it’s important that New Yorkers have their heating systems inspected by a professional to ensure they are operating properly,” said DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland. “A heating system that is malfunctioning may not be readily apparent and could present a health risk to the occupants of the building, and tuning boiler operations can reduce the emissions of pollutants outside of the building and save owners thousands of dollars a year in fuel costs.”
New York City has laws in place to protect people from carbon monoxide poisoning, and both landlords and tenants have responsibilities to help protect New Yorkers from carbon monoxide exposure. Residential building owners must provide tenants with approved carbon monoxide detectors. The law also requires that all existing detectors be replaced by building owners at the end of their life cycle (usually 5-7 years), as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Building owner responsibilities include:
Install a carbon monoxide detector in every tenant-occupied unit. Learn more about NYC's carbon monoxide detector laws.
Replace carbon monoxide detectors every five to seven years, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Maintain fuel-burning equipment, including furnaces, boilers, stoves and hot water heaters.
Keep chimneys and ductwork clean and maintain chimney flues.
Provide heat in all residential units from October 1 through May 31.
Owners of large buildings are required to register their boilers with DEP and have the registration renewed every three years
Tenant responsibilities include:
Keep all carbon monoxide detectors in good repair and test them at least once a month.
Replace the batteries in a carbon monoxide detector twice a year - in the spring and in the fall when clocks are changed for daylight savings time - or when there is a low battery signal. Even if your detector uses electricity, battery back-up is needed in case there is a power loss.
Never use a gas oven or stove to heat your home.
Never use a kerosene or propane space heater, charcoal grill, or generator indoors or near the home.
If a carbon monoxide detector goes off in your home, call 911, quickly open a nearby window, and go outside for fresh air immediately.
For more information on carbon monoxide, call 311 or visit Carbon Monoxide Webpage.