Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas produced by burning any fuel. When inhaled, CO rapidly displaces oxygen in the victim’s 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. For 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.

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 mild headaches, shortage of breath, nausea, drowsiness and dizzy spells. At higher levels, CO poisoning can cause severe headaches, mental confusion, impairment of vision or hearing, vomiting, fatigue, loss of consciousness, and coma. Severe CO poisoning can cause an irregular heartbeat, amnesia, brain damage, coma, and eventually death.

Medical studies have shown a high percentage of the population is particularly vulnerable to CO, including low levels over a longer 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 Fire Marshals Association of North America shares the common belief that 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. Carbon monoxide is a common by-product of vehicle exhaust and appliances that run on flammable fuel. Appliances should always be checked to ensure they are in good working order and properly ventilated by a qualified professional if necessary.

It is recommended that at least one CO detector is installed in the sleeping area of your home, and even additional devices installed near other emission sources such as heating appliances.

The community needs to be aware of this hazard. Excellent information on carbon monoxide is available from a variety of manufacturers of CO detectors, as well as from your local gas utility company. Many common questions are answered in literature provided by these companies. They allow you to recognize the hazards of the various levels of CO poisoning, take practical steps to protect you and your family from CO poisoning, and provide first aid information that could save your life.

Be wise because it can save lives!