Monday, February 2, 2009

Carbon Monoxide, the "Silent Killer"

You’ve heard the reports on the news...

• "Firefighters discover couple dead from gas heater fumes."
• "Family found unconscious, overcome by carbon monoxide."

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is the leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in America, claiming more than 400 lives each year. CO is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas that can lead to brain damage and even death.

Known as 'The Silent Killer', CO is produced whenever fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned - and it can be produced by common household appliances. Sources of CO poisoning can include:

• Gas water heaters
• Kerosene space heaters
• Grills, hibachis or portable gas camp stoves
• Idling motor vehicles
• Cigarette smoke
• Propane-fueled forklifts
• Gas-powered concrete saws
• Indoor tractor pulls
• Swimming behind a motorboat
• Spray paint, solvents, degreasers, and paint removers

The symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning can mimic the flu and you may not be inclined to think of CO poisoning. At a low level exposure, shortness of breath, nausea and headaches are common. At a moderate level, victims experience more severe headaches, dizziness and confusion, and often become nauseated or faint. The longer the exposure to CO, the greater the chance of death.

If You Think You Have Been Exposed to Carbon Monoxide:
• Move quickly to fresh air, away from the suspected source of exposure.
• Seek medical care in a hospital emergency department or contact your doctor.
• If severe, life-threatening symptoms are present, call 9-1-1

What can you do to protect yourself?
• Never use a grill or any type of barbecue indoors.
• Never burn any type of charcoal indoors.
• Have a certified technician service your home heating system each year.
• Be careful with generators.
• Do not allow your vehicle to idle in an enclosed space or near a door or window to your home.
• Get a Carbon Monoxide Detector!

Carbon Monoxide Detectors are widely available. The technology for this detector is still developing and may be as reliable as the smoke alarms found in homes today. Preventing CO from becoming a problem in your home is better than relying on an alarm. Do some research on detector features and don’t select solely on the basis of cost.

For additional information about Carbon Monoxide:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention