What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas produced by burning any fuel. When inhaled, CO rapidly displaces oxygen in the victims blood, resulting in serious illness, even death. Since Carbon Monoxide is completely invisible, odorless and tasteless, many people have no idea that they are being poisoned until it is too late. Fore this reason, CO is often called “The Silent Killer.” Airtight design in today’s modern energy efficient homes can contribute to the problem by confining CO contaminated air within the home.
Carbon monoxide is a common byproduct of vehicle exhaust and appliances that run on flammable fuel, such as gas. Appliances should always be checked to ensure that they are in good working order and properly ventilated by a qualified professional if necessary.
Common CO sources in the home include:
- Furnaces (Oil/Coal/Gas)
- Gas Dryers
- Gas Refrigerators
- Ranges/Stoves (Gas/Coal)
- Space/Area Heaters (Gas/Coal)
When used properly these appliances are not dangerous, but if not properly vented, or not burning correctly, they can be deadly.
What are the symptoms/dangers?
The symptoms of CO poisoning often imitate those of common illnesses such as the flu. Some studies have indicated an estimated 23.6% of people who have flu or stress symptoms could actually be suffering from CO poisoning.
Victims of low level CO poisoning often experience the following symptoms:
- Mild headaches
- Shortage of breath
- Dizzy spells
At higher levels CO poisoning can cause:
- Severe headaches
- Impaired vision/hearing
- Mental confusion
- Loss of consciousness
Severe CO poisoning can cause:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Brain damage
What can I do to protect my family?
Medical studies have shown a high percentage of the population is particularly vulnerable to CO, especially low levels over a long period of time. This high risk group includes fetuses, children, the elderly, and those with heart and lung disorders. When inhaled, CO combines with hemoglobin in red blood cells to form substances that work to decrease oxygen levels and eventually asphyxiate the victim.
The awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide combined with the use of CO detectors in the home will dramatically reduce the incidents of tragic deaths and frightening near misses that result from CO leaks.
It is recommended at least one CO detector be installed near the sleeping area of your home. Additional detectors are advised for the common living areas of the home or installed near (but not directly over) other emission sources such as heating appliances. However, detectors should not be located near a bathroom where humidity from a shower may affect it’s operation. Also, fingernail polish and hair spray adversely affect CO sensors.
What do I do if my detector goes off?
If your CO detector does activate the first thing you should do is call 911. After calling 911 you should calmly evacuate family members and pets to outside the home or a neighbors house. DO NOT open windows and doors to air out the home, this will prevent firefighters from detecting the source. When the fire department arrives they will inspect the home with monitoring devices and then let fresh air in the house if it is necessary.
Never hesitate to call for help if your CO detector is activated, helping you in these situations is what firefighters spend so much time training for and we are always willing to help.