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Burning Charcoal Causes 83 Deaths From Carbon Monoxide

Release Date: November 15, 1985

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the Barbecue Industry Association, warns consumers about the danger of misusing charcoal briquettes. During the past seven years, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has learned of 83 deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning occurring as a result of people burning charcoal briquettes in an enclosed area.

Some of the victims were campers who burned the charcoal to keep warm inside a tent or camper. Others were hunters who burned the charcoal inside their trucks, cars, or vans. In January of this year, a family attending the pose Parade in Pasadena, California, died when they brought an outdoor gill with a charcoal fire into their van apparently to keep themselves warm. In several home related incidents, victims die from carbon monoxide poisoning after they burned charcoal in a bedroom or living room for heat or cooking.

Current Commission regulations require two highly visible warning labels at the top of every bag of charcoal briquettes. The warning labels identify the hazard of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a tasteless, odorless, invisible gas. Some symptoms of acute CO poisoning are headache, confusion, dizziness, nausea and, at high enough concentrations, loss of consciousness. Consumers may not realize that burning charcoal produces large amounts of carbon monoxide and that it only takes a small amount of CO in the air to produce symptoms of CO poisoning and even death. Opening a window or using a fan will not assure that CO gas will be reduced to safe levels.

Burning the charcoal in a fireplace can also be hazardous because it is questionable whether a charcoal fire will create a chimney draft sufficient to assure that CO will be exhausted to the outside. Because CO is not visible, and is odorless, consumers may not be aware that carbon monoxide is accumulating.

The Commission and the Barbecue Industry Association urge that consumers not use charcoal to cook or to provide heat inside a tent, camper, van, car, truck, home, mobile home, or other enclosed area. To report any potential product related hazards, consumers should call the CPSC Hotline at 800-638-CPSC. The teletypewriter number for the hearing-impaired is (301) 595-7054.

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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product-related incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of injuries associated with consumer products over the past 50 years. 

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