CO is a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas that is slightly lighter than air. CO poisoning is real. Each year, 1,500 Americans die from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 900 of these deaths occur in homes. (A more recent review claims CO as the leading cause of more than 15,000 accidental poisoning deaths in the United States each year, and another 10,000 injuries, according to the Carbon Monoxide Medical Association). Many of the deaths could be prevented if people were more aware of the dangers of CO poisoning.
Carbon Monoxide and You
Each year, 1,500 Americans die from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 900 of these deaths occur in homes. (A more recent review claims CO as the leading cause of more than 15,000 accidental poisoning deaths in the United States each year and another 10,000 injuries according to the Carbon Monoxide Medical Association) Most of the deaths could be prevented if people were more aware of the dangers.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas that is slightly lighter than air. Only small insignificant amounts of CO are produced by normal combustion. However, incomplete combustion of any fuel greatly increases the production of poisonous carbon monoxide. Even normally safe, fuel-burning furnaces can present a danger if not cared for properly. Fuel-burning appliance systems should be kept in good repair and checked at least annually. Especially prior to the heating season, make sure that the chimney is not blocked by bird nests, leaves, soot, loose mortar, bricks or trash.
Portable, un-vented heaters should not be used as the main source of heat. They can, however, bc used safely as a temporary heat source during the waking hours or during a power failure. If used, ventilation must be provided. The minimum ventilation should be one square inch of fresh air per 1,000 BTUs of the heater's rated output.
Whenever there is a flame or combustion, some deadly carbon monoxide gas can be produced. The following factors, however, increase the production of this highly toxic gas:
When none of these conditions exist, burning a solid, liquid or gaseous fuel produces little danger of CO poisoning. Under ideal conditions, only small amounts of CO are given off, and these are quickly dissipated.
But if one condition exists, such as an improper burner adjustment of a furnace, the possibility of CO poisoning is greatly increased. The carbon monoxide, however, still may be vented to the outside through a chimney or stack.
When any combination of the hazardous conditions exist, there is a possibility of a serious threat to health, For instance, if the burner on the kitchen range is improperly adjusted in a tightly fitted dwelling, such as a mobile home, the danger of CO poisoning is greatly increased because normally there is little ventilation.
Avoid use of charcoal grills and hibachi pots indoors for cooking or to eliminate the chill in a room or closed garage. They give off CO fumes, even when no glow is visible in the coals.
Make sure that fuel-burning equipment is installed by qualified, licensed or trained persons. Such installation should conform to all local codes and standards.
Provide a constant supply of fresh air for safe burning of fuels. This can be done by leaving a window slightly open. Provide for the positive venting of combustion gases to the outside. This can be accomplished by vent or flue pipes, exhaust systems, etc.
Heating systems, water heaters, kitchen stoves and other fuel-burning devices should be thoroughly inspected and maintained at least once a year by a qualified person (professional service representative).
Never convert a particular unit from one type of fuel to another without having necessary burner changes and adjustments made by a trained and experienced person. (Example: Changing from liquefied petroleum fuel [L.P.] to natural gas.)
Never run any internal combustion engine equipment, such as a power lawnmower or snow-blower, in an enclosed space such as a closed garage. Always start it outside or with the door open.
Automobile exhaust systems also can be hazardous, especially in the winter when cars ale operated with the windows closed. A noisy engine may indicate a faulty exhaust system. Check the system and have it repaired if there is a blown-out gasket, loose exhaust manifold, leaking exhaust pipe connections or holes in the muffler.
Be sure the doors are open in the garage or enclosure where an automobile motor is running.
Headache and drowsiness may occur in mild cases, while prolonged exposure can cause nausea, vomiting, heart flutter, extreme sleepiness and shortness of breath, which can be followed by unconsciousness and death. If the equipment is faulty, liquid petroleum fuel provides a major hazard from fire or explosion. In a camping situation, the exposure could easily exceed eight hours, and continued exposure to CO as low as 25 parts per million could cause non-fatal poisoning. Remember, carbon monoxide cannot be seen, tasted or smelled.
FIRST AID FOR CO
The information provided on this page is based upon the HSE current scientific and technical understanding of the issues presented. Following the advice given will not necessarily provide complete protection in all situations or against all health hazards that may be caused by indoor air pollution and other indoor environmental contaminants. The HSE have not reviewed or approved all the information and documents on indoor air quality that may be provided by other groups or organizations.
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