As the weather turns colder and storms come more often, and as the cost of fuel oil, kerosene and propane rises along with the price of a barrel of oil, people in some offices in Augusta begin to get worried about matters of life and death.

What bothers experts like state toxicologist (that is, poison specialist) Andrew Smith is that Mainers who either can’t afford fuel for their regular furnaces or lose power in storms might turn to alternate sources of heat and power.

Which could kill them.

The danger is carbon monoxide, or CO, an odorless, tasteless, invisible gas that displaces oxygen in the air.

The difference is that you can breathe oxygen, but you can’t breathe carbon monoxide.

And this insidious substance, the product of burning carbon-based fuels like gasoline, charcoal and oil, takes effect almost without notice.

People inhaling enough of it simply fall asleep — and never wake up.

If a room fills with CO when you’re already asleep, it’s almost impossible to escape.

The gas also is in engine exhausts, and people warming up cars in garages, or running generators or snowblower engines inside four walls, can also suffer CO poisoning.

The rules are simple. Never heat with anything but an approved, inspected furnace or heater. Never use cooking devices such as gas or charcoal grills for indoor heat or food preparation. Never run an engine of any type, including generators, inside a house or garage.

Be sure that homes are equipped with working smoke and CO detectors, and change the batteries (if they have them) in the spring and fall when daylight-saving time begins or ends. If the alarm goes off, get out of the house and then call 911.

The life you save most definitely will be your own.