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Every winter, Questar Gas worries about the weather's potential effects on the vents and natural gas meters on its customer's homes and businesses.

When large amounts of snow fall, the company knows there is a chance — however small — that the white fluffy stuff might bury the exhaust vents to natural-gas furnaces, leaving those within exposed to deadly carbon monoxide. Or the snow and ice could crack the outside pipes on its meters, causing a dangerous natural gas leak.

Although most intake and exhaust vents are on roofs, many are near ground level, said Darren Shepherd, spokesman for Questar Gas. "Regardless of where they are found, it is extremely important for our customers to always check to ensure those vents are unobstructed by ice and snow."

And it is just as important to keep natural gas meters clear, he said.

Another snowstorm is expected in Utah this coming weekend.

Allowing ice and snow to accumulate can cause meters to malfunction, or even worse crack during freezing and thawing, which could cause a natural gas leak outside the home, Shepherd said.

Keeping meters clear of snow and other obstacles also can help if there is an emergency and natural-gas flow to a home or building needs to be shut off quickly.

Statistically, the threat that someone might fall victim to carbon monoxide poisoning is slight, but it is real nevertheless.

Data from the Utah Department of Health shows that from 2006 to 2010 around 220 Utahns went to emergency rooms because of accidental carbon monoxide exposure. Additional statistics show that from 2006 to 2011, 15 were hospitalized.

Shepherd said blocked furnace vents are a particular problem in communities at higher elevations — areas where snowfall often is heavy and the winter weather more extreme than at lower altitudes.

Unified Fire Authority Capt. Clint Mecham said calls from people worried about carbon monoxide exposure typically increase during the winter months. "Many are aware the risk is higher," he said, noting that all of the department has an array of equipment that can be used to detect the odorless but deadly gas and provide first aid to those exposed to it.

Shepherd said Questar Gas customers should exercise caution when piling snow as they shovel or use a snowblowers on sidewalks and driveways. "They need to be aware of the damage that piling up snow around their meters can cause."

He said that in cases where meters are covered in thick ice, consumers should call Questar Gas at 1-801-324-5111 so its employees can either remove the ice or advise the customer how to do it safely.

"We will give the customer some options on how to protect their meters to ensure the ice problem doesn't reoccur," he said.

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Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning

Preventions include making sure appliances are properly installed, periodically inspecting and professionally servicing the heating system (including chimneys and vents), installing CO detectors/alarms in living areas.

Symptoms are headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, disorientation.

For relief, get to fresh air and call 911.

Source: Sandy Fire Department

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