The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Jul 29, 2009 8:58 AM
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas that can be fatal when individuals are exposed to high levels of what is termed, appropriately, "the silent killer." CO is released from a wide variety of sources, including gasoline-powered engines, generators, camp stoves, or by burning charcoal or wood. Everybody is susceptible to falling victim to CO poisoning - but there are preventative measures that can reduce your risk of exposure.

Prevent exposure. Arranging for a qualified technician to inspect and clean chimneys and vents in your home once a year could save your life. Cracks, corrosion and blockages in chimneys and vents can send CO back into your home without you even knowing it. For daily protection, every home should have a CO detector with alarm. It is important to install the device in an area of your home where it will be easily heard while everyone is sleeping. (CO poisoning has been known to kill people in their sleep.) Test your detector weekly to ensure it will be in working condition should you ever need it.

Don't idle. Never start and then idle your vehicle inside a closed garage, especially if it is attached to your home. (The same goes for lawn mowers, snow blowers or any gas-powered tool.) Instead, open your garage door, then start your vehicle and drive outside. If you need to allow your vehicle to heat up before hitting the road, idle outside your garage, with the garage door shut. Do not allow yourself the luxury of using a remote starter to turn on and idle your vehicle while it is in a closed garage.

Camp cautiously. In creating creature comforts while camping in the great outdoors, be careful not to bring CO into your tent or camper. Never use a charcoal grill, portable camping stove, or any gas-powered appliance inside an enclosed space such as a tent or camper. Opt for electric or battery-operated appliances whenever possible. Leave the gas-powered appliances for outdoor use only.

Boating safety. Even though it may seem like you're breathing fresh air while boating on the wide-open ocean or on ponds or lakes, boaters, too, have fallen victim to CO poisoning. Never swim near the exhaust system while the boat or generator is running. In particular, CO tends to build up at the rear of the boat, where a swim platform may be located. Adding to the danger of CO poisoning while boating is the likelihood that the victim may collapse into open water and drown - so make sure your boat is turned off while you or your family are enjoying the water. Just like CO can accumulate inside your home or garage, it can also build up in any enclosed areas on your boat, so install a CO detector in the cabin of your craft. Dock your boat away from other vessels that are running, which can send exhaust your way.

What to watch for. Common symptoms of CO poisoning include:

Headache

Dizziness

Weakness

Nausea

Vomiting

Chest pain

Fatigue

Confusion

Loss of consciousness

These symptoms are often initially passed off as heat exhaustion or other less severe illnesses and go untreated. If you witness somebody showing signs of CO poisoning, get that person to fresh air immediately and seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Inform the physician that you suspect the individual has been exposed to CO. Unborn babies, infants, individuals with heart disease, anemia or respiratory problems are at increased risk while exposed to CO. Remember that individuals who are sleeping or intoxicated will likely continue to inhale harmful CO without waking or showing symptoms of distress.