Kristi King, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - A heater's broken exhaust pipe is believed to have caused the carbon monoxide poisoning that killed five people in Oxon Hill this week.
Inspectors believe the pipe experienced normal wear and tear.
Normal wear and tear is something homeowners and renters can inspect for themselves.
Look for the silver smoke pipe that comes off gas furnaces and water heaters.
"If you see any type of holes, any type of wear and tear, any tape, you must have it replaced immediately," says Master Gas Fitter Jeffrey Levin with John C. Flood of Va. Inc.
Levin also says people shouldn't have boxes or items stored close to furnaces and water heaters.
"You should keep that entire area clear," says Levin.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you have all gas appliances checked by a professional every year.
Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer because it's an invisible and odorless gas.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission points out that a CO alarm "is no substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO" but it does recommend homeowners install alarms.
Individual carbon monoxide alarms should be in hallways near every separate sleeping area in your home. Make sure nothing, such as furniture or drapes, blocks the alarm.
If the alarm goes off, leave the home immediately and call 911.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include shortness of breath, nausea and headaches.
Carbon monoxide is caused by burning fuel. Don't use fuel-burning items such as generators in closed spaces. Other safety recommendations include not using fuel-burning camping equipment inside and not lighting a charcoal grill in the garage.
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