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Stopping the Silent Killer

Stopping the Silent Killer
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District
Los Angeles, Calif.

Do you have a carbon monoxide detector in your home? If you don’t, you may want to consider purchasing one. Trust me, I speak from experience.

My family and I were snoozing away one chilly morning when we were awakened abruptly by a shrill noise. No, it wasn’t my wife. (I am so dead when she reads this article). The annoyance was my carbon monoxide alarm sounding. Pulling myself out of bed, I noticed the house heating system was also on. I set the thermostat low, but the temperature had dropped enough during the night for it to engage. When it lit off, something went terribly wrong with the air and fuel mixture. It was running very rich and I could feel the heat coming through the door to the heater’s closet. However, it wasn’t the heat that concerned me. What got my attention was the reading on my CO detector’s display panel.

Here’s a quick science lesson: CO is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas that is a by-product of incomplete combustion, especially from fossil fuels. Almost anything that burns gives off CO, and you won’t know it’s there. It can kill quickly if concentration levels are high enough. At 50 parts per million, most healthy adults get symptoms of CO poisoning — which include headache, nausea and vomiting — in the early stages of exposure. The higher the concentration, the quicker CO can render you unconscious and eventually lead to death.

Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body and there’s a substance called hemoglobin that is part of these cells. Hemoglobin is what grabs oxygen molecules and moves them around your body. Hemoglobin attraction to CO is about 400 times greater than it is to oxygen. So when CO is present, hemoglobin will latch onto it instead of the oxygen. Your hemoglobin molecules can’t carry enough oxygen to keep you alive. All the while, you’re unaware because you cannot smell, taste or see it. Thus, CO is dubbed the silent killer.

How do you stop a silent killer? Noise works quite well. When my CO alarm went off, the reading was 289 PPM and rising. Without an alarm, there’s a good chance my family and I would’ve died.

Eventually, the malfunctioning heater would have caused a fire and the smoke alarms would have activated. But if we were all unconscious from CO poisoning, we wouldn’t have heard them.

Fortunately, we did hear the CO alarm and got out of the house in time. I turned off the heater and turned on our whole-house exhaust fan as we left. None of us had CO poisoning symptoms and went back inside 30 minutes later. This incident is exactly why I purchased a CO detector and it’s why you should too.

I cannot officially endorse any product, but if you’re in the market for a CO detector, I suggest getting one that operates by electrical plug and battery backup. I purchased mine at a large home-improvement center for less than $50. That’s a small price to pay to save an entire family from a premature death, right? You bet it is.


Additional information about carbon monoxide poisoning can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/co/.

  • 1 December 2013
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 7207
  • Comments: 0