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Carbon Monoxide: The Stealthy Killer

February 18, 2015

Each year hundreds of people experience what they think are flu symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • dizziness.

These are actually symptoms of CO poisoning.

What is carbon monoxide (CO)?

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that can kill you if inhaled. You cannot see, smell or taste it. It is sometimes referred to as the “Silent Killer” because it can take your life without warning. Most people die in home fires die at night, while asleep. They don’t wake up because the CO put them into a deeper sleep. They are unable to respond and escape.

Why is CO deadly?

CO gets picked up by the cells in our blood even easier than the oxygen they are supposed to pick up and the CO is carried to all the vital organs such as the heart and brain. In addition to flu symptoms, it can cause vomiting, loss of consciousness, brain damage, and death.

Where does CO come from?

CO is a product of incomplete combustion. Any fuel-burning device has the potential to produce dangerous levels of CO gas. Examples of common devices that may emit CO include:

  • Lawnmowers
  • Snow blowers
  • Automobiles
  • Gas fueled generators
  • Fireplaces
  • Wood stoves
  • Any fuel-fired appliances (not electric)

What can be done to prevent CO poisoning?

  • Like smoke detectors, have CO monitors in good working condition in your home.
  • Make sure appliances are installed in compliance with the manufacturer’s instructions and code enforcement
  • Have heating systems inspected and serviced at least once a year
  • Make sure chimneys and vents are checked regularly for blockages, corrosion, and loose connections
  • Never burn charcoal or gas grills inside a home or enclosed space
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent
  • Never use a gas-powered generator inside a building
  • Never use a gas stove to heat with
  • Never use unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping

Where CO detectors should be installed?

CO is almost identical to air and thus mixes freely in it. For this reason, detectors can be installed at any level in a room. If mounting a detector on the ceiling do so away from smoke detectors so you can distinguish between the two. My recommendation is to install a CO detector on every floor you have a fuel-burning appliance in a room adjacent to the appliance

What should I do if the CO alarm sounds?

Stay calm. Check everyone in the house at the time

“Do you feel sick? Do you have a headache? Check them for flu-like symptoms

If the answer is yes to any of these questions is yes evacuate and call the fire department. Failure to get out immediately could result in prolonged exposure worsening the effects from the CO.

If the answer is no the likelihood of serious exposure is much less and you may not need to call the fire department. Instead, turn off the fuel-burning appliances and ventilate the building and attempt resetting the alarm.

If at any time during the process anyone feels ill or you just don’t feel right call the fire department