The awareness of carbon monoxide (CO) causes and hazards is slowly growing, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate 430 people in the U.S. die each year from accidental poisoning. The worst part is that this tragedy is totally preventable, as long as you know what to look out for. In this post, we’re going to cover exactly what CO is, the symptoms of CO2 poisoning to look out for, and what you can do to prevent it from happening in your home.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. It’s created in small quantities in the natural world, but most commonly, it’s created when there isn’t enough oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2), like when fuel isn’t completely burned. Incomplete fuel burning usually happens when operating a stove or appliances that rely on internal combustion, like a generator, a car’s engine, or a furnace, in an enclosed area.
While the hazards of heat sources, like potential fire and burns are well-known, the hazards of CO are less well-known. People who are unaware of CO’s dangers may use appliances that produce fumes in an enclosed space, which can cause poisoning. These people are not necessarily negligent with their use of application, and many are related to usages necessitated by natural disaster. According to the CDC, outages due to weather cause an increase in generator use, which when used incorrectly, can lead to poisoning. After Hurricane Katrina, an estimated 47 deaths occurred due to improper generator use.
What does CO poisoning look like?
Indoor pollution is a huge cause of CO poisoning, and if you suspect someone has been poisoned, there are some symptoms to watch out for:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
These symptoms can be especially dangerous if someone is sleeping or intoxicated, because they can appear to be related to those two conditions, rather than CO. If the development of these symptoms is sudden and seemingly unrelated to something else, seek fresh air and help immediately.
How can I prevent CO poisoning?
First, if you suspect someone has been poisoned, call 911 and the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 1 (800) 222-1222.
One of the first steps to preventing CO poisoning is to be aware of this condition, and know what to look for should you suspect it’s occurrence. Luckily, prevention of CO buildup is easy and completely within your control. CO detectors function like your smoke detectors, and will alert you to the presence of toxic levels of CO in your home. Make sure to regularly test your CO detectors. If you’re installing them, place one near each sleeping area, and at least one on each level of your home. Connect them all, so if one detector goes off, they will all go off, and each member of your family will be alerted to the presence of CO.
Although CO detectors are widely available at many retail stores, BNG recommends the Kidde CO detector, which detects CO and warns you at a much lower CO level than discount store models. It also has a digital read-out so you can see what the level is and what the highest recorded level has been, even if it is within “Safe” limits. This robust unit uses AC power and has a ten-year life on the backup battery and a 10 year warranty. At just $99 (or less than $10 per year) it provides great peace-of-mind that you won’t be unaware if dangerous CO is present in your home.
If your CO detectors go off, get outdoors or to an area where you can access fresh air, like a door or window. Once you’re sure each member of your family is present, call for help. Stay near the fresh air area.
If you must use a generator, heater, grill, lantern, or fireplace, use it only in a well-ventilated area. Never use a grill or generator indoors.
During snowy weather, make sure your dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace vents are clear of snow, which can trap smoke and fumes.
Get your furnace checked annually by a technician trained to spot areas of leakage or combustion chamber corrosion! Many people forget the fact that their furnace creates heat through a combustion chamber. Over time, the chamber can corrode, and the exhaust flue, which moves CO outside of the home, can leak or have holes. A trained HVAC technician, like those at BNG, can spot these potential hazards and make repairs to prevent the spread of CO into your home. The best solution here is prevention, so schedule your furnace maintenance annually, and ideally, before we get into heavy-use furnace season.
For more information on CO safety, you can visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website. For annual furnace inspection and maintenance, you can call BNG at 812.858.4000 to schedule an appointment.