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Editorial: Put a CO detector at the top of your shopping list

Although you may plan to cut back on Black Friday spending this week, keep the carbon monoxide (CO) alarm at the top of the shopping list. Although it's not law for everyone in Minnesota to have one yet - it will be by August 2009. The law is alr...

Although you may plan to cut back on Black Friday spending this week, keep the carbon monoxide (CO) alarm at the top of the shopping list.

Although it's not law for everyone in Minnesota to have one yet - it will be by August 2009.

The law is already in place for new housing and for single-family homes. Minnesota statute requires newly-constructed, single- and multi-family dwellings built on or after Jan. 1, 2007, to have a Underwriters Laboratories (UL)-listed CO alarm within 10 feet of each bedroom. The same law applies to existing single-family homes as of Aug. 1, 2008.

The law will apply to existing multi-dwelling units, such as apartment buildings or duplex homes, as of Aug. 1, 2009.

The intent of the law is to save lives. From 2002-2006, 92 Minnesotans died from unintentional exposure to the colorless, tasteless, odorless gas, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

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"When someone dies from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, it's not just a private tragedy," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar in a news release last week. "It's a public tragedy, too. Because we know that, so often, it could have been prevented with better safeguards."

Klobuchar is involved in recent legislation that would require the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to enforce stronger standards in protecting people against carbon monoxide poisoning. The "Residential Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act" includes two key provisions:

First, it would strengthen the safety standards for carbon monoxide alarms. Currently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has voluntary standards, set by Underwriters Laboratories. The legislation would make these safety standards mandatory for all carbon monoxide alarms sold in the U.S.

Second, the legislation would require that every portable gas-powered generator sold in the U.S. be equipped with safety features, such as a built-in carbon monoxide alarm and an automatic shut-off. It would also require prominent warning labels.

People can be exposed to excessive carbon monoxide in many ways - when operating a gas-powered generator in a confined space, in a motor vehicle with the engine running inside a closed garage, or inside homes with incorrectly vented or malfunctioning water heaters, furnaces, space heaters, fireplaces or stoves.

Heating oil, natural gas, propane, kerosene, gasoline, wood and almost anything that burns can produce carbon monoxide if not enough oxygen is available.

Those experiencing low level carbon monoxide poisoning may complain of headaches, specifically like a hat is on too tight, drowsiness, nausea and/or vomiting.

But don't wait until you or your loved ones get to that point. Buy an alarm. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on routine maintenance and replace alarms every five to seven years. By doing so, you take a step to ensuring a healthy and happy holiday season, no matter what other shopping you may do.

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