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Carbon monoxide

The days are growing shorter and the nights colder, and it is likely that we are shutting our windows to block out the chill in the air. With winter and the holidays fast approaching, radon and carbon monoxide are probably not the first things on your mind. Unfortunately, these invisible, odorless gases can be a big threat to your health and safety. Luckily, now is the perfect time to take action against them, and the Cayuga County Health Department has the resources available to help.

Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas. It is a carcinogen, which means that it causes cancer. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon kills 21,000 people each year. Radon cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, so most people are unaware of its presence. It can leak into your home or apartment through cracks in your basement or slab, the dirt floor in your crawl space, or openings around your sump pump. Any home can have high radon levels. The EPA and the state Department of Health have designated Cayuga County as a high-risk radon county due to the fact that many residences have already been shown to have high levels of radon.

Exposure to radon is preventable. As radon accumulates in enclosed areas, it is of special concern during colder months when homes get little fresh air. This makes late fall and winter the best time of year to test for radon. The Cayuga County Health Department is encouraging all residents to test their homes for radon. To make this easy, we are providing free radon test kits. These kits are available for all residents of Cayuga County and can be picked up at the health department, located at 8 Dill St., Auburn. For more information on radon, you can visit the Environmental Protection Agency website at epa.gov/radon.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the other invisible, odorless gas that residents should be aware of. Carbon monoxide is released from furnaces, stoves, portable generators, gas ranges, charcoal, fireplaces and other products when they malfunction or are used improperly. When CO accumulates in a home, it can cause sickness and even death. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headaches, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

One of the best ways to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning is to install a battery-operated or backup CO detector in your home. Be sure to replace the batteries each spring or fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends the following:

• Maintain all fuel-burning appliances, like furnaces and generators, according to the manufacturer’s operation instructions and have them serviced annually by a qualified technician.

• Ensure all fuel-burning appliances are properly vented so that CO will not build up in your home, cabin or camper.

• Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause CO to build up inside your home or cabin.

For more information on carbon monoxide, be sure to visit the CDC’s website at cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm.

If you are concerned about other threats inside your home that can affect your health, you are encouraged to take advantage of the Healthy Neighborhoods Program. This program provides free carbon monoxide and smoke detectors among other health and safety items. All residents in the city of Auburn and those residing in Locke and Moravia are eligible for this program. Call the Cayuga County Health Department at (315) 253-1560 to schedule a home assessment today! The Healthy Neighborhoods Program is a grant funded by the state Department of Health and administered by the Cayuga County Health Department in collaboration with the Cayuga Community Health Network. You can visit our website at cayugacounty.us/health for more information on radon, and don’t forget to “like” our Cayuga County Health Department Facebook page.

Let the Cayuga County Health Department help keep you and your family safe this season!

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Erin Robideau, MPA, is a public health educator assistant with the Cayuga County Health Department. For more information, call (315) 253-1560.

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