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CPSC Urges Annual Fuel-Burning Appliance Inspection to Prevent Deaths, Fires

Release Date: September 22, 1997

As cooler weather approaches in many parts of the country, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reminds consumers that a professional inspection of all fuel-burning appliances -- including many furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers and space heaters -- is not only wise maintenance, but might detect a hazard that could save your home and your life.

These appliances burn fuels for warmth, cooking or decorative purposes. Typical fuels are gas, both natural and liquefied petroleum; kerosene; oil; coal; and wood. Under certain conditions, these appliances can produce deadly carbon monoxide (CO) gas that can kill. With proper maintenance, these appliances are safe to use.

"CO poisoning associated with the use of fuel-burning appliances kills more than 200 people each year and sends about 10,000 to hospital emergency rooms for treatment," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown.

As an added protection to this annual maintenance, CPSC recommends consumers use a CO detector which meets the current requirements of Underwriters Laboratories standard 2034.

CO is a colorless, odorless gas produced by burning any fuel. The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu, and include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. Exposure to high levels of CO can cause death.

"Modern heating equipment requires special training and tools for proper maintenance," Brown said. "Consumers should not service their own appliances, but have a qualified plumber, heating contractor or gas company technician perform an inspection every year."

This yearly inspection should include chimneys, flues, and vents for leakage and blockages by creosote or debris. Creosote buildup or leakage could cause black stains on the outside of the chimney or flue. These stains can mean that pollutants are leaking into the house. Have all vents to furnaces, water heaters or boilers checked to make sure they are not loose or disconnected.

CPSC has received reports that high temperature plastic venting (HTPV) pipes, which are used in mid-efficiency appliances, could separate or crack. This could allow CO from the furnace to enter the home. Homeowners with gas-fired mid-efficiency furnaces or boilers installed between 1987 and 1993 should have them inspected for cracking or separating venting pipes.

Also, make sure that your appliances are inspected for adequate ventilation. A supply of fresh air is important to help carry pollutants up the chimney, stovepipe or flue, and is necessary for the complete combustion of any fuel.

Preventing Fires and Explosions

CPSC recently issued a warning to consumers urging them to have a professional check if their gas appliances use uncoated, brass gas connectors. These old connectors are used to supply gas to appliances, such as stoves and clothes dryers, from the gas supply pipe.

The connector can crack or break if moved even slightly, causing a gas leak, which can lead to a fire or explosion. CPSC knows of at least 38 deaths and 63 injuries related to these gas connectors since 1980.

Consumers should not attempt to check these connectors themselves. Only qualified professionals should check for old, uncoated brass connectors and replace them with stainless steel or coated brass connectors. The old brass connectors are found mostly in homes with gas appliances 15 years old or older.

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About the U.S. CPSC
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. 

Federal law prohibits any person from selling products subject to a Commission ordered recall or a voluntary recall undertaken in consultation with the CPSC.

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