At a marketplace recently, a conversation with a city fireman reminded me of the importance of keeping a carbon monoxide detector plugged in and working. On a sweltering summer day in Baltimore City two years ago, four members of a family were killed when they were overcome by carbon monoxide in their home.
What is carbon monoxide? Carbon monoxide or CO, which it is commonly referred to, is “…a deadly gas that cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled. ” This gas can make people seriously ill and even kill if too much is inhaled.
So if carbon monoxide cannot be smelled, tasted, or seen, how can its effects be determined? Carbon monoxide poisoning may feel like influenza. “Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and confusion”. Even pets are at risk from CO’s lethal reach. Common sources of common monoxide are gas furnaces and water heaters, fireplaces, gas stoves and ovens, clothes dryers, and space heaters. Also, the “…incomplete oxidation during combustion in gas ranges and unvented gas or kerosene heaters may cause high concentrations of CO in indoor air.” In addition, “…worn or poorly adjusted and maintained combustion devices (e.g., boilers, furnaces) can be significant sources, or if the flue is improperly sized, blocked, disconnected, or is leaking.” “Auto, truck, or bus exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, parking areas,” may also be sources.
Even though CO gas is a silent killer, there are a few basic precautions to shield yourself from this toxin.
1) Identify all appliances and other household items that may be CO sources.
2) Have your energy supplier annually inspect your fuel burning sources to determine if they are radiating CO fumes.
3) Never use your grill or charcoal indoors; not for heating your home nor cooking.
4) Avoid use of generators inside or in areas with poor ventillation.
For in-house safety do the following:
1) Purchase a carbon monoxide alarm. Either the plug-in model or the combination CO/smoke detector sounds an alarm if this gas is present in excess.
2) Place the alarms outside each sleeping area and on all floors of your residence.
3) Do a monthly check of the CO alarms, making sure the batteries are changed twice a year or when they began to emit a “low battery” warning sound.
What do you do if your carbon monoxide detectors begin to sound?
1) Leave the house immediately for fresh air.
2) Contact the fire department via 911 from outside your residence.
3) Wait for fire personnel to determine the CO’s source and do not return to your home until you are given an all clear.
4) Contact a service specialist who repairs carbon monoxide leaks.
Just because it is summer and the fireplace is not roaring, does not mean you are not at risk for CO poisoning. Follow these simple measures and live.
References Carbon Monoxide, Center for Injury Reasearch and Policy, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
An Introduction to Quality Air, Carbon Monoxide (CO), http://www.epa.gov/iaq/co.html.
Photo image credit
Hewitt, Michael, Basic Fire Safety Equipment.