One of the most shocking Carbon Monoxide Facts is “It is estimated 300 deaths occur each year from CO poisoning and 10,000 people seek medical attention due to CO inhalation”. It’s a common misconception that Carbon Monoxide is only produced by fires. In reality, carbon monoxide leaks can come from many possible sources. For example, it can build up when fuel is burned by cars, trucks, stoves, or furnaces. You can’t smell, see, or taste this hazardous gas.  It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, highly toxic gas that is undetectable to the human senses. It is a by-product of combustion, present whenever fuel is burned from kerosene, charcoal, diesel fuel, wood, gasoline, natural or liquefied petroleum (LP) gas, coal, propane, oil, methane, and tobacco smoke. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, cars, lawnmowers, and power washers also produce CO. Energy-efficient homes may be more susceptible to CO poisoning because they do not allow enough air in the home to dissipate normal CO output.

Carbon Monoxide Leak 

  • If undetected, carbon monoxide can build up inside your building until it reaches deadly levels for both animals and humans. 
  • If there is a carbon monoxide leak in your building, you won’t be able to tell unless there is a reaction from your carbon monoxide detector. This is why it’s important to install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors.
  • You need to make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are always in working order. A small leak may go undetected for a while, creating health risks for you and your employees.

Carbon Monoxide Facts about Its Exposure

Exposure to carbon monoxide can be deadly. Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by breathing in carbon monoxide, which blocks the body’s absorption of oxygen. Depending on the severity of the leak, the poisoning can happen over a short or long period of time. Because the gas is odorless, victims may become disoriented before realizing any danger, unable to call for help or exit the premises. CO displaces oxygen in the blood, causing the brain, heart, and other tissues, muscles, and organs to become oxygen starved, a condition called carboxyhemoglobin or COHb.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain

High-level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death

Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. If there has been a recent carbon monoxide leak in your building, do not dismiss any of these symptoms. Go to the hospital to receive medical care.

Carbon Monoxide Fact: How are people unintentionally poisoned by CO?

Thousands of people die every year from CO produced by non-automotive consumer products. These products include malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators; fireplaces; and charcoal that is burned in homes and other enclosed areas. Some of the deaths were known to have occurred during power outages due to severe weather. Still others die from CO produced by non-consumer products, such as cars left running in attached garages. 

Sources of Carbon Monoxide

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that several thousand people go to hospital emergency rooms every year to be treated for CO poisoning.

 Carbon Monoxide Fact: How can I prevent CO poisoning?

  • Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes. Most appliances should be installed by qualified professionals. Have the heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill and tools. 
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house, or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current safety standard. Make sure the alarm cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil. 
  • Ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris during renovations.

What Should You Do When The CO Alarm Sounds?

Never ignore an alarming CO alarm! It is warning you of a potentially deadly hazard.

Carbon Monoxide Detector

If the alarm signal sounds:

  • do not try to find the source of the CO:
  • Immediately move outside to fresh air.
  • Call your emergency services or fire department.
  • DO NOT re-enter the premises until the emergency services responders have given you permission. You could lose consciousness and die if you go in the home.
  • Make sure that motor vehicles are not, and have not been, operating in an attached garage or adjacent to the residence.
  • If the source of the CO is determined to be a malfunctioning appliance, DO NOT operate that appliance until it has been properly serviced by trained personnel.
  • If authorities allow you to return to your home, and your alarm reactivates within a 24-hour period, call a qualified appliance technician to investigate for sources of CO from all fuel-burning equipment and appliances, and inspect for proper operation of this equipment. 
  • If problems are identified, have the equipment serviced immediately.

Carbon Monoxide Fact: Effects on Environment

Carbon monoxide is present in Earth’s atmosphere at very low concentrations. A typical concentration of CO in Earth’s troposphere is around 100 ppb (parts per billion; meaning one hundred out of every billion air molecules is carbon monoxide), although especially clean air can have concentrations as low as 50 ppb.

Power generation, industry, and transportation were the biggest sources of emissions. In one-third of the cities, road transportation accounted for more than 30 percent of emissions. Railways, waterways, and aviation, by contrast, accounted for less than 15 percent of total emissions.

CO contributes indirectly to climate change because it participates in chemical reactions in the atmosphere that produce ozone, which is a climate change gas. CO also has a weak direct effect on climate, its presence affects the abundance of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide.

Carbon Monoxide Fact: Effects on Environment

Involvement of CO gas in different biological processes has also been found in plants. For instance, it acts as a compound with hormonal effects, affecting seed germination, and root development and inducing stomatal closure.

Carbon Monoxide is sometimes called the “silent killer” because it sneaks up on you and takes your life without warning.

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