WINDHAM — Too often, it takes tragedy to bring awareness, concern and action to an issue.

The life-threatening danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is one such example. Just weeks ago, four young adults died in Byron, apparently as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is often referred to as “the silent killer” because exposure to the poisonous gas is odorless and tasteless – making it difficult to recognize. However, exposure to the poison can be prevented, and early detection is possible.

This session, I sponsored L.D. 623, a bill that was passed and will become law, requiring more buildings – such as schools, sorority and fraternity houses, child-care facilities, hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts – to have carbon monoxide detectors. Gov. LePage vetoed the bill, but both the Senate and House overrode his veto.

Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors are a sure way to warn us when danger is present. However, unlike smoke, where you can smell and notice the threat, carbon monoxide is much more dangerous – without a detector, it is not noticeable.

By law, smoke detectors are required everywhere; now, this new measure asks the same for CO detectors. My hope is that someday, every building and home in Maine will have a CO detector.

For around $20 to $30, a CO detector can be purchased at nearly any store. Typically, they are battery-powered and should be placed outside each sleeping area. It is worth the investment to have the peace of mind that you and your family will be alerted to the presence of this poisonous, odorless gas.

Over 100 emergency department visits occur each year in Maine because of carbon monoxide exposure, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Knowing the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure is important. Warning signs are flu-like symptoms without fever, such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion.

Should you suspect CO poisoning, leave your house immediately and call 911. You can also call the Northern New England Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

But most importantly, do not go back into the building until you know the carbon monoxide levels are safe.

Carbon monoxide exposure is more prevalent in winter months, when snowbanks block air vents and generators are used for backup. In fact, carbon monoxide poisoning can rise as high as 30 cases of exposure per week.

But carbon monoxide detectors are only half of the solution toward ensuring safety. An aggressive statewide public awareness campaign about the dangers of carbon monoxide is integral to our collective safety.

By utilizing organizations that are already invested in public safety – such as the state firefighters union and the Maine State Federation of Fire Fighters – we can spread the word on carbon monoxide safety and provide tips for avoiding common and deadly mistakes.

Currently, some local fire departments visit schools and teach children about fire safety. Carbon monoxide exposure and poisoning could be added to their curriculum.

Just as we’ve seen with universal seatbelt usage, if we start early by teaching our kids on safety measures, they, too, can become strong messengers on the importance of CO detectors in the home. Energizing our schools and fire-safety professionals will be my next step in hoping to find a straightforward way to get the message out.

Our efforts also need to expand beyond schools. Municipal organizations, community service groups and many others need to take this on as a serious project.

For example, perhaps a well-known business would be willing to help finance the printing and distribution of print materials for or sponsor the production of a public service announcement for television, radio and local movie theaters. I pledge to help initiate such efforts in our communities and among our citizens.

The bottom line is that carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented. With increased CO detectors in use and widespread understanding about this “silent killer,” lives can be saved.