Friday, April 19, 2024

Keeping Minnesotans safe from ‘the silent killer’

This holiday season, as temperatures drop and we gather with loved ones, it’s important to keep safety front of mind. Yes, that means driving more carefully on icy roads, but it also means keeping your family safe from a less obvious winter hazard — carbon monoxide.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, carbon monoxide killed 119 Minnesotans between 2012 and 2021. Young children and adults over 65 are especially vulnerable. The most common symptoms — often described as “flu-like” — include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Although carbon monoxide poisoning can happen any time of year, it is most common in the winter months, when families often run their home heating systems all day.

Two years ago, the Hernandez-Pintos, a Moorhead family of seven, were all killed in their sleep by carbon monoxide from their furnace. While determining the cause of death, investigators found that a carbon monoxide detector in the family’s garage had been removed and replaced with a smoke-only detector.

And Rochester mother Cheryl Burt tragically lost two of her three sons, 4-year-old Nicholas and 15-month-old Zachary, when they were poisoned by carbon monoxide from their furnace. Decades later, Cheryl is still haunted by a shopping trip she made before the tragedy, where she bought a toy truck for her son instead of a detector. “To this day I have that truck. I do not have my son,” she said.

Often called “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and poisonous gas that can originate from furnaces, water heaters, or gas stoves. It can be trapped inside by a blocked chimney or flue. Running a car engine in an attached garage, burning charcoal in the home, or operating a gas-powered generator in a confined space can also produce the deadly gas.

While all Minnesota homes are required by law to have working carbon monoxide alarms, shockingly, many do not meet the standards necessary to keep families safe. Too often, a substandard alarm’s failure to go off in the presence of the gas can be the difference between life and death.

That’s why I introduced and fought to pass the bipartisan Nicholas and Zachary Burt Memorial Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act to keep families safe across our state and country. First, my legislation enforces mandatory safety standards for alarms, which are currently not required by law to meet the voluntary standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Second, it provides states with federal resources to carry out public awareness and education programs — because the best way to keep families safe from carbon monoxide poisoning is by preventing it in the first place.

I don’t want any more Minnesotans to suffer the same fate as Nicholas and Zachary Burt or the Hernandez-Pinto family. To prevent future tragedies, I’ll keep fighting for stronger safety standards. In the meantime, all Minnesota families should make sure they have functional, high-quality carbon monoxide alarms in their homes. With higher standards in place and better awareness of this issue, we can save lives.

 

Amy Klobuchar is the senior U.S. Senator from Minnesota.

 

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