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Carbon Monoxide Dangers

Graphic courtesy of

By PJ Martin


The Herald-News


Today’s weather may be sunshine and warmer temperatures, but you can bet that old man winter isn’t quite finished with us yet. February is known for a stretch of cold weather and with everyone trying to heat their homes and workshops comes the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless poisonous gas produced by the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas. CO is highly flammable, and it can form explosive mixtures with air. It is used by industries to produce methanol, hydrogen, and synthetic gas.

The CDC website lists CO poisoning as the cause of approximately 420 accidental deaths each year. Adding that more than 100,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency department each year due to accidental CO poisoning.

Occasionally, severe winter weather takes down our electrical power and many people will use generators to keep the lights or heat on. When operated safely generators are a very useful tool; when used incorrectly they can be deadly.

Never use a generator indoors. Not even in the garage. They should always be operated outdoors away from windows and doors to prevent the build-up of carbon dioxide in your home or garage near people or pets.

The same is true of kerosene heaters, gas or charcoal grills, hibachi, lanterns, or portable camping stoves. Never use them inside a home, tent, camper, or garage.

Any appliance unit that uses gas, coal, gasoline, or wood as a source should be inspected carefully before using for the first time, and make sure these appliances have proper ventilation. Dryer vents, furnaces, water heaters, stoves, and fireplaces should all be well-ventilated.

Each of the appliances listed can potentially cause a build-up of carbon monoxide inside your home if adequate ventilation is not provided. Chimneys should also be inspected and cleaned each year before use.

On those cold days, most people let their car warm up before heading to work. Never leave a car running in a closed garage. CO can build up very quickly. Even if the garage door is open, carbon monoxide can still accumulate in the garage. Use caution as CO is colorless and odorless. That’s why it is referred to as the silent killer.

What can you do to help prevent illness from CO? Purchase carbon monoxide detectors for each floor of your home and place them near sleeping areas on the wall, or ceiling. Never locate a CO detector near heating or cooking appliances or in humid places such as bathrooms.

There is a misconception that CO either rises to the ceiling or settles down at the floor level. Actually, carbon monoxide has almost the same density as air and it mixes with the air evenly. Science has proven that. The best level to place the detector is where you can read the digital display on it.

A person who is sleeping or has been drinking alcohol can die from carbon monoxide poisoning without ever waking up.

CO monitors are just as important as smoke detectors in saving your life. Early warning is the key to staying safe.

The symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. If you think you or a family member could have CO poisoning, leave the area immediately and get medical attention.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the following levels of CO as common in most homes.

Homes without gas stoves vary from 0.5 to 5 parts per million (ppm). Levels near properly adjusted gas stoves are often 5 to 15 ppm and those near poorly adjusted stoves may be 30 ppm or higher.

No standards for CO have been agreed upon for indoor air. The U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards for outdoor air are 9 ppm (40,000 micrograms per meter cubed) for 8 hours, and 35 ppm for 1 hour.

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