Carbon monoxide is an odorless colorless gas that can be deadly if it is inhaled. Carbon monoxide can come from a number of sources and is difficult to detect due to the fact that it can not be seen or smelled. Therefore, it is important to be familiar with the causes of carbon monoxide poisoning and know how you can prevent it from occurring.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is found in fumes that can come from the fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges and furnaces. If it builds up in an indoor space it can poison those that inhale it.
Symptoms of CO Poisoning and Who Is At Risk
The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, confusion and flu-like symptoms. It can also result in a loss of consciousness and death. Those who are asleep or drunk can die from CO poisoning before experiencing symptoms.
Anyone can experience CO poisoning, but it is most likely to affect those with breathing problems, chronic heart disease or anemia. Infants and the elderly are also more susceptible.
More than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning each year while 20,000 visit the emergency room and 4,000 are hospitalized.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Your Home
Carbon monoxide is very prevalent in America, but the chances of it occurring can be reduced if certain safety precautions are adhered to. These include the following:
- Make sure you have an effective and functioning carbon monoxide detector in your home. If you have a battery operated or battery backup CO detector, check or replace the battery every time you set your clocks back or ahead for the spring and fall.
- Replace detectors every five years.
- Buy a detector with a digital readout that can tell you where the highest concentrations of CO are in your house.
- Place your detector where it will wake you up if the alarm is activated.
- Have your heating system, water heater and other gas, oil and coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician annually.
- Don’t use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
- If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator, have it serviced immediately. This could be the sign of a CO leak.
- When buying gas equipment, make sure it has the seal of approval by a national testing agency like Underwriters’ Laboratories.
- Make sure gas appliances have proper ventilation. Horizontal vent pipes for water heaters and other appliances should go up slightly as they go outdoors. This will prevent CO from leaking if pipes or joints aren’t properly fitted.
- Have your chimney cleaned each year. Chimneys that are blocked by debris can cause CO to build up indoors.
- Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum or similar materials. These kind of patches can lead to a CO buildup.
- Never burn charcoal or use a portable gas camp stove indoors as both of these activities can lead to CO buildup.
- If using a generator indoors, make sure it is within 24 feet of a door, window or vent.
- Do not use a generator indoors unless you have a CO detector in your home.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from Your Car or Truck
CO poisoning is not something that only occurs in your home. It can also happen in your car or truck. To ensure that your car is safe, follow these safety precautions:
- Have your exhaust system checked by your mechanic every year. A small leak can lead to CO buildup inside the car.
- Never run your vehicle inside a garage that is attached to the house, even if the garage door is open. It is okay to run the car in a detached garage, as long as the door is open.
- If you drive a vehicle that has a tailgate, open the vents or windows when you open the tailgate to ensure that air is moving through. If only the tailgate is open, CO from the exhaust will be pulled in to the car.
Carbon monoxide is a very dangerous gas that is difficult to detect and can cause unconsciousness in minutes. This makes it all too easy for people to suffer injuries, disabilities and even die as a result of poisoning. It is important to be familiar with safety precautions to prevent poisoning. Research carefully so you can be sure you are doing all you can to keep yourself and your family safe.