Exposing a Invisible Killer: The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Each year in America, unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning claims more than 500 lives and sends another 15,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.
- What is carbon monoxide (CO)?
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and toxic gas. Because it is impossible to see, taste, or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware that it is in your home. At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, and fatigue. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health, and the concentration and length of exposure.
- Where does carbon monoxide come from?
CO gas can come from several sources: gas fire appliances, charcoal and gas grills, wood burning furnaces or fireplaces, and motor vehicles. Anything that burns fuel creates CO. Usually the CO is either outside, vented to the atmosphere, goes up a chimney, or outside through a range hood or fan.
- Who is at risk?
Everyone is at risk of CO poisoning. Medical experts believe that unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens, and people with heart or lung problems are at an even greater risk for CO poisoning.
- What actions do I take if my carbon monoxide detector goes off?
If no one is feeling ill:
- Silence the alarm.
- Turn off all appliances and sources of combustion (i.e. gas furnace, fireplace, gas dryer, hot water heater, etc.)
- Call the Fire Department (911) to investigate the source of the possible CO buildup.
If illness is a factor:
- Evacuate all occupants immediately.
- Determine how many occupants are ill and determine their symptoms.
- Call the Fire Department (911) and when relaying information to the dispatcher, include the number of people feeling ill.
- Do not re-enter the home without the approval of a Fire Department representative.
Protect Yourself and Your Family From CO Poisoning
- Install at least one UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms. Carbon monoxide alarms measure levels of CO over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms. It is very possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear the alarm. This does not mean that no CO is present.
- Have a qualified professional check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, venting, and chimney systems at least once a year.
- Never use your range or oven to help heat your home and never use a charcoal grill or hibachi in your home or garage.
- Never keep a car running in the garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.
- When purchasing an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house.
The presence of a carbon monoxide alarm in your home can save your life in the event of a CO buildup.