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Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide "The Silent Killer"

What is Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless gas that comes from burning fossil fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, propane, oil, and methane. When these fuels burn incompletely, CO is produced. Home heating and cooking appliances can produce CO if damaged or misused. Vehicles such as cars, trucks, tractors, and lawn mowers are also a source of CO. Any motor allowed to run indoors can produce dangerous levels of CO.

It is estimated that 1500 people die annually due to accidental Carbon Monoxide exposure, and an additional 10,000 seek medical attention. Many doctors say that it is difficult to determine the total number of CO related incidents because the symptoms of CO poisoning closely resemble many other common aliments.

Where Carbon Monoxide Comes From

Carbon Monoxide can be produced by gas or oil appliances like a furnace, clothes dryer, range, oven, water heater, or space heaters. When appliances and vents work properly, and there is enough fresh air in your home to allow complete combustion, the trace amounts of CO produced are typically not dangerous. However, the following conditions can cause CO levels to rise quickly:

  • Appliance malfunction, i.e. the heat exchanger on your furnace cracks.
  • Vent, Flue, or chimney is blocked by debris or even snow.
  • Fireplace, wood burning stove or charcoal grill is not properly vented.
  • Vehicle is left running in an attached garage and CO seeps into the house.

Why Carbon Monoxide is Dangerous

CO robs your blood of oxygen. When you inhale carbon monoxide, it bonds with the hemoglobin in your blood, displacing life-giving oxygen. This produces a toxic compound in your blood called “Carboxyhemoglobin” (COHb). Over time, exposure to CO can make you sick. Victims exposed to enough carbon monoxide can suffer brain damage, or even die. Since you can’t see, smell, or taste carbon monoxide, it can make you sick before you even know it’s there.

Common Symptoms

Flu-like symptoms are an early indication of low-level CO poisoning. More serious exposure can lead to dizziness, mental confusion, sever headaches, fainting, feeling tired, and even death. Carbon Monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States.

What To Do If Your CO Detector Alarm Goes Off

  • Make sure no one is experiencing any signs of CO poisoning.
  • If symptoms of CO poisoning are present, everyone should exit the building leaving the doors open as you go.