Georgia has declared war on the "silent killer."
As of today, all new one- and two-family homes and townhomes will be required to have at least one carbon monoxide detector, according to state law.
"The builder is responsible, and city and county inspectors will be looking for it," said Ted Miltiades, director of construction codes for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
There are already similar rules regarding smoke detectors. But most Georgia homes still do not have carbon monoxide detectors, and many people aren’t aware that they need one.
Odorless and invisible carbon monoxide gas is called a "silent killer." It’s created when fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal and propane don’t burn completely, and is a major hazard in winter when people burn fuels to stay warm.
Inside the human body, carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin, impairing the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. It can lead to permanent brain damage or death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide exposure is a leading cause of unintentional poisoning in the United States. The initial symptoms, headache and nausea, are often mistaken for the flu. People generally don’t suspect carbon monoxide poisoning unless they notice that their symptoms improve when they go outside.
And if they’re asleep when the gas leaks, they may be overcome by it and die, never knowing what happened.
That’s why having a (carbon monoxide) detector is so important. "You should put it near the sleeping area, in the general vicinity of your smoke detector," said Miltiades.
Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said he thinks the new law is a good idea. "We get calls quite often regarding carbon monoxide, so this will be helpful," he said.
The carbon monoxide alarm can alert residents to evacuate the house quickly, before they get sick. Kimbrell said unlike smoke detectors, the carbon monoxide devices tend to respond only to carbon monoxide, so they rarely have false alarms. Anytime the signal goes off, residents should call 911.
"The fire department has more sophisticated monitoring equipment," he said. "We’ll come in and check to see if (carbon monoxide) is actually present, and we’ll try to find the source."
There are limitations to the new law. It does not apply to existing homes, nor does it cover apartments or mobile homes.
But Miltiades said the law can always be amended in the future.
"This is a big step," he said. "First we just had to get something on the books. Previously, Georgia had no law at all."
Kimberly King, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs, said even if your home is exempt under the law, that doesn’t mean you’re not at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
"We’re hoping this will encourage people to go out and purchase (a carbon monoxide detector), even if they aren’t required to," she said.
Kimbrell said he hopes someday the fire department will be able to get grants to help people in older homes buy the detectors. The department already has a similar program to distribute smoke alarms.