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Home test kits detect dangerous carbon monoxide

Question: I've made my home more energy efficient and I'm concerned about carbon monoxide (CO) gas poisoning. I've heard that symptoms often are mistaken for the flu. How can I check my home? T.Z.

Answer: Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that kills thousands of people each year, many in their sleep. It is estimated that many thousands more suffer short- and long-term health problems from low-concentration CO gas poisoning without realizing the cause.

Many of the initial CO gas poisoning symptoms are similar to flu symptoms _ persistent headaches, sleepiness, lack of energy, nausea, weakness, reddening of face, red or burning eyes, shortness of breath, etc. Consult your physician if you have these symptoms.

In any house, especially a newer airtight one, it is a good idea to continually monitor the CO gas level. The level of CO gas in your home can vary.

With incomplete combustion, any fuel-burning appliance in your home _ gas range, furnace, water heater, fireplace _ can produce CO gas in high enough levels to cause death. People die each year from using the oven in their gas ranges to help heat their homes.

There are several types of do-it-yourself CO gas monitoring alarms you can use in your home. The simplest to use are 9-volt-battery-operated continuous sensors. These look similar to ceiling-mounted smoke alarms and make a similar loud alert tone when dangerous levels of CO gas are detected.

The battery and the inexpensive sensor cartridge usually need to be replaced once a year. You can also install 110-volt house current CO gas monitors. Some also warn of smoke and natural gas in the air.

The latest development in monitoring devices utilizes a "dose monitor" sensor. This sensor mimics the poisoning effect that CO gas has on your body. It actually absorbs and expels CO gas at the same rate as blood and sounds the alarm for an unsafe CO gas level.

A CO gas concentration of 200 PPM (parts-per-million) for two hours has a similar poisoning effect as a 400 PPM concentration for 30 minutes.

You can use inexpensive CO gas sensitive tablets. Some utilize dose monitor sensor material. These tablets change color when CO gas is present to alert you to the problem. You should mount these at several locations in your home. The refrigerator door is good spot because it is seen many times each day.

You can write for "Utility Bills update No. 230" listing addresses and phone numbers of makers of CO gas alarms and testing tablets and product information, and tips on reducing the risk of CO poisoning. Please include $1.50 and a self-addressed business-size envelope.

Write to James Dulley, St. Petersburg Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.