What You Need to Know about Carbon Monoxide
You probably already know that carbon monoxide or CO, can cause sudden illness and death. Did you know that CO is colorless and odorless? Because it is undetectable by our senses, CO detectors are an important part of any life safety solution. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers also produce CO.
Who is at risk from CO poisoning?
According to the CDC, all people and animals are at risk for CO poisoning. Certain groups — unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems — are more susceptible to its effects. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to CO poisoning. Fatality is highest among Americans 65 and older.
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, an average of 150 people in the United States 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. According to this video from the CDC, placing your generator 15 feet from your home may NOT be far enough away.
Know the Symptoms of CO Poisoning
Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu without the typical fever. They include:
- Shortness of breath
High level CO poisoning results in progressively severe symptoms, including:
- Mental confusion
- 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.
For rapid, high level CO exposures (e.g., associated with use of generators in residential spaces), victims can quickly become confused, and can lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms.
Follow these easy steps from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to guard against CO poisoning in your home or office:
- 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.
- Operate portable generators outside and as far away from the building as possible. Also operate generators away from doors and windows. According to the CDC, 15 feet may not be far enough away depending on wind speed and other factors.
- Add a professionally installed and monitored CO detector that meets the requirements of the current UL 2034 safety standard. Effective coverage of your home can be determined with our onsite free consultation. After installation, make sure the detector is not covered up by furniture or draperies.
- 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. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
- If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator’s cooling unit have an expert service it. An odor from the cooling unit of your gas refrigerator can mean you have a defect in the cooling unit. It could also be giving off CO.
- Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owner’s manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.
- Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
- 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. Doing so blocks the combustion air flow through the appliance and can produce CO.
- During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
For more information on carbon monoxide including how much CO is dangerous to your health, read the full article here by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Read more about preventing CO poisoning on your boat from the CDC here.
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