Friday, January 9, 2015

The Silent Killer: Carbon Monoxide

Courtesy of the KCK Fire Department

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ---- Carbon Monoxide (CO) is often called the silent killer because it is an odorless, colorless, and invisible gas.  Carbon monoxide is produced anytime that fuels (such as gasoline, kerosene, wood, natural gas, oil and propane) burn incompletely.

According to the National Safety Council approximately 200 – 300 deaths a year are the result of CO poisoning.

The Kansas City Kansas Fire Department responds to over 50 calls a year to homes and businesses that have elevated levels of carbon monoxide.  Even small amounts of CO over a long period can result in an individual becoming sick.

CO poisoning can present itself in a number of ways.  Many people report flu like symptoms; nausea and headaches.  Other symptoms may be dizziness, light headiness and shortness of breath.  CO poisoning will sometimes mimic heart problems.  

People often report that after they are outside of their residence they begin to feel better and then upon reentering their homes they begin to feel sick again.  High levels of CO exposure can result in death within minutes.  Carbon monoxide poisoning is treatable.

The danger of CO poisoning is directly related to a number of variables which include a victim’s health and activity level. Infants and pregnant women, and people with physical conditions that limit their body's ability to use oxygen (i.e. emphysema, asthma, heart disease) can be more severely affected by lower concentrations of CO than healthy adults would be.

There are many sources of possible CO producing equipment in the home.  Heating equipment such as furnaces, water heaters, stoves, fueled space heaters and fireplaces all produce some levels of CO.

As long as this equipment is ventilated properly there will be little if any elevated levels of CO.
Another source of CO production is vehicles and generators that are left running in an attached garage.

So how do you protect yourself and loved ones?  The simplest solution is to purchase a CO detector. These alarms are very sensitive and can detect any elevated carbon monoxide level.

The detectors can be purchased at hardware stores, home improvement stores, some department stores and plumbing and heating stores.  Install your carbon monoxide alarm in a centrally located area outside of each sleeping area.

These CO alarms will need to be checked monthly and replaced according to the manufacturers’ recommendations.  CO alarms are not a substitute for a smoke alarm; you need both types of alarms.

Learn and know the difference between the sound of the smoke alarm and the sound of the CO alarm.
Some other precautions that you should take are:

  • Use barbeque grills outside.  Do not bring them into your home or garage.
  • Have all heating and cooking equipment in your home checked yearly by a professional.
  • Never use your stove or oven to heat your home.
  • Make sure you open the flue in your fireplace when in use.

If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.

If you suspect that you may be a victim of CO poisoning or your CO alarm sounds move to fresh air and stay there.  In Kansas City, Kansas you may call the Fire Department for assistance.   Wait until the emergency crews on scene say that it is okay to reenter the building.