Health & Wellness

CO Poisoning – How to Prevent it and Save Lives

CO poisoning

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas that has the potential to silently harm or kill people and animals if inhaled. Also referred to as CO, the gas is found in fumes produced when fuel, such as gas, oil, or coal, is burned in engines, generators, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, gas space heaters, chimneys, furnaces, cars, trucks, and more. It is not found in electric heaters and water heaters, and electric toasters as they do not burn fuel. The build-up of CO indoors is dangerous, as the gas is poisonous. For this reason, one must pay careful attention to instructions on how to operate fuel-fired appliances and machinery and trucks and automobiles safely. For example, use a generator outdoors, not in a garage or carport, and never use a gas grill indoors nor keep a car running in the garage. Be sure to get regular servicing for indoor appliances, such as furnaces and gas stoves, and have an expert make sure they are installed and vented properly.

Per the CDC, CO poisoning can lead to medical symptoms such as headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, chest pains, or confusion. Some people report that it feels like having the flu. Those who are sleeping or are under the influence may die from CO poisoning without warning signs. Statistics shared by the CDC demonstrate that more than 400 Americans are killed from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires each year. In addition, there are more than 20,000 visits to the ER and over 4,000 hospitalizations. Moreover, everyone is at risk, from infants to the elderly. Those with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, asthma, or anemia, are at higher risk of getting sick from CO. Per safety.com, January is the deadliest month as people look to heat their homes during the coldest time of the year.

To prevent CO poisoning in ones’ home, the CDC states that every home must have a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector. Additionally, it should be placed near a bedroom area where it can be heard while fast asleep. Consider purchasing a detector with a helpful digital readout. In addition to sounding an alarm, it can indicate the highest CO concentration level in one’s home. The number of CO detectors recommended varies from home to home, dependent on the size of the residence and the number of bedrooms. At a minimum, one on each level of the house is generally acceptable. However, the detectors are not recommended in attic spaces. Most are installed at knee-height or eye-level rather than on the ceiling like smoke detectors.

There are more things we can do to keep safe. Never run a vehicle inside a garage, even with a garage door open. If you drive a car or SUV with a tailgate, keep the vents or windows open while the tailgate is open to keep air moving through. If you smell an odor from a gas appliance or hear the hissing sound of gas escaping from an appliance, this can indicate a CO leak. Manufacturers deliberately put additives in gas to make it smell like rotten eggs to help folks recognize leaks. Immediately evacuate the area and head to a safe location. Warn others as well to evacuate. If you smell gas, never light a match, candle, flame, or smoke.

Furthermore, do not turn on electrical switches, appliances, or lights as it can create a dangerous spark. And never use a phone inside the area where you smell gas, nor open or close windows or the garage door. Instead, immediately head outside, and from a safe distance, call 911 or your local gas company’s emergency number to report the leak. Do not return to your home until it is deemed safe. Note that fuel appliances can be quite safe when serviced and used properly. However, should an appliance malfunction or be improperly used, a CO detector can warn you and provide protection and peace of mind. 

To learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning and ways to stay safe, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm

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