SGT. 1ST CLASS WESLEY PRINCE
560th Battlefield surveillance Brigade
Georgia Army National Guard
Hundreds of people die every year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. Most of us, however, are still unaware of the dangers of this potentially lethal gas.
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels such as gasoline, oil and wood. At high levels, it can kill a person within minutes. Fortunately, the dangers of CO poisoning can be limited in the home by taking some precautionary measures.
Carbon monoxide can be produced in lethal quantities from automobile exhaust, faulty home heating systems, improperly used portable gas stoves and heaters, improperly vented wood stoves and fireplaces, just to name a few. Identifying these items, in my opinion, is imperative. Not only can lives be saved, but it’s simple enough that families can educate others on how to identify the items as well. Most of the aforementioned fuel-burning appliances are necessities for our everyday lives, but there are right and wrong ways to use them.
It’s important to recognize the symptoms of CO poisoning. However, given that CO is colorless and odorless, this can be difficult since the symptoms are similar to the common cold, flu, food poisoning or other illnesses. At moderate levels, some of the main indicators of CO poisoning are severe headache, dizziness, confusion, nausea or fainting. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, nausea and mild headaches as well as long-term effects on your health. Precautionary measures to protect your family from CO poisoning include:
• Have your fuel-burning appliances — including oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves — inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season. Make sure flues and chimneys are in good condition and clear of any blockage.
• Choose appliances that vent their fumes outside whenever possible and have them properly installed and maintained according to manufacturers’ instructions.
• Read and follow all of the instructions that accompany any fuel-burning device. If you cannot avoid using an unvented gas or kerosene space heater, carefully follow warnings that come with the device. Use the proper fuel and keep interior doors to the rest of the house open. Crack a window to ensure proper ventilation and fuel burning.
Actions that should not be practiced, include:
• Do not idle the car in a garage, even if the garage door is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home.
• Do not use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
• Do not use a charcoal grill indoors, not even in a fireplace.
• Do not sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
• Do not use any gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chainsaws, small engines or generators) in enclosed spaces.
• Do not ignore the symptoms of CO poisoning, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing.
Treating an exposure
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, people who experience CO poisoning symptoms should take the following steps:
• Get fresh air immediately. Open all doors and windows to allow for ventilation, turn off the combustion appliance or device and leave your house.
• Go to an emergency room for treatment. Tell the attending physician you believe you are a victim of CO poisoning. The physician can verify any CO poisoning by a blood test.
Installing a CO detector in the home is another smart measure you could take to protect your family. These detectors will sound an alert when a rise in CO levels is detected, allowing you to identify the cause and take the necessary action. Another advantage is these devices are small enough to be installed in every room.
Accidental deaths in the home can be reduced tremendously. Even though CO is considered a “silent killer” due to the lack of odor and taste, implementing the aforementioned safety measures can protect your family from its dangers and risks.
About those CO detectors
The Environmental Protection Agency advises against being lulled into a false sense of security because you have installed a CO detector, as they are not considered as reliable as smoke detectors. According to the EPA, while various types of laboratory-tested detectors are available on the market today, they should never be considered as a replacement for properly using and maintaining fuel-burning appliances. If you decide to purchase a CO detector, use resources such as the American Gas Association to make an informed decision and be sure to look for the Underwriters Laboratories certification. For more information, visit the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website at http://www.osha.gov.
For more information about preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/co/