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Underground scientists hunt for dark matter, neutrinos, extreme life, things that can expand our understanding of the universe. While they look to the skies, Sanford Lab’s environment, safety and health team keeps a look out for harmful particles, things like carbon monoxide (CO).

“CO is a very serious hazard in underground work,” said Jason Rosdahl, safety specialist at Sanford Lab. “A product of combustion, CO can be fatal in high concentrations due to its ability to affect the absorption of oxygen into the blood.”

There are multiple precautions taken daily to prevent underground exposure. For example, infrastructure technicians use electric-powered equipment, fixed and portable sensors monitor the air and every person underground is equipped with—and trained to use—a self-rescuer.

It is important to monitor this gas underground. It’s also important to understand that high levels of CO are just as lethal in more familiar spaces, such as your home or car. In fact, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), “Exposure to CO can result in permanent neurological damage or death, and anyone can be at risk.”

Information below is provided by the NSC on how to be vigilant against the dangers of CO poisoning this winter season.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that often goes undetected, striking victims in their sleep.

This "silent killer" is produced by burning fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, portable generators or furnaces. When the gas builds up in enclosed spaces, people or animals who breathe it can be poisoned. Ventilation does not guarantee safety.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says about 170 people in the United States die every year from carbon monoxide produced by non-automotive consumer products, such as room heaters. So as the weather turns colder, it's important to take extra precautions.

Exposure to carbon monoxide can result in permanent neurological damage or death, and anyone can be at risk. Infants, the elderly, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia or breathing problems are more prone to illness or death, but carbon monoxide doesn't discriminate — especially if certain conditions are present.

Winter can be a prime time for carbon monoxide poisoning as people turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warm their cars in garages.

The NSC recommends you install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home near the bedrooms. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer these additional tips:

• Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year

• Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors

• Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of CO can be produced in just minutes

• Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire is extinguished

• Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly

• Never use a gas oven for heating your home

• Never let a car idle in the garage

• Know the symptoms of CO poisoning

What steps do I take when the CO alarm sounds?

The CPSC says never ignore a CO alarm, and do not try to find the source of the gas. Instead, follow these steps:

• Immediately move outside to fresh air

• Call emergency services, fire department or 911

• Do a head count to check that all persons are accounted for

• Do not reenter the premises until emergency responders have given you permission to do so

How can I avoid CO poisoning from my car or truck?

• Have a mechanic check the exhaust system of your car or truck every year. A small leak in the exhaust system can lead to a build-up of CO inside the car.

• Never run your car or truck inside a garage that is attached to a house even with the garage door open. Always open the door to a detached garage to let in fresh air when you run a car or truck inside.

• If you drive a car or SUV with a tailgate, when you open the tailgate open the vents or windows to make sure air is moving through. If only the tailgate is open, CO from the exhaust will be pulled into the car or SUV.

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