Carbon Monoxide Dangers
Central Illinoisans should recognize the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and take steps to prevent it. This is especially important during winter, when furnace and heater use are at their peak.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (known by the chemical symbol CO) is a colorless and practically odorless gas. It is poisonous to people and animals because it displaces oxygen in the blood. It is produced by the incomplete burning of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels.
Appliances fueled with natural gas, liquefied petroleum (LP gas), oil, kerosene, coal or wood may produce CO. Burning charcoal produces CO. Running automobiles also produce CO.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year more than 200 Americans die from CO produced by fuel-burning appliances (furnaces, ranges, water heaters, room heaters). Others die from CO produced while burning charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent. Still others die from CO produced by cars left running in attached garages.
Several thousand people go to emergency rooms each year for treatment of CO poisoning.
Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide can have different effects on people based on its concentration in the air. Initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu, but without a fever. They include:
- Shortness of breath
At higher concentrations, people can experience impaired vision and coordination, headaches; dizziness, confusion, and nausea. In very high concentrations, CO poisoning can cause death.
What to do if you experience poisoning symptoms
- Get fresh air immediately.
- Open windows and doors for more ventilation, turn off any combustion appliances, and leave your home.
- Call your fire department and report your symptoms.
- Contact a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis. Tell your doctor that you suspect CO poisoning is causing your problems. Prompt medical attention is important if you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning when you are operating fuel-burning appliances.
How to minimize CO dangers
Install CO detectors/alarms
The American Red Cross recommends that everyone install CO detectors/alarms in homes and recreational vehicles.
- Before buying a CO alarm, check to make sure it is listed with Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Standard No. 2034, or there is information on the package or owner’s manual that says that the detector/alarm meets the requirements of the IAS 6-96 standard.
- Install a CO detector/alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Make sure the detector/alarm cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies. Follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding the specific location where to install it. Avoid corners, where air does not circulate.
- CO detectors/alarms are available for boats and recreational vehicles, too. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association requires that CO detectors/alarms be installed in motor homes and in towable recreational vehicles that have a generator or are prepped for a generator.
Be careful with household appliances
A carbon monoxide detector/alarm can provide added protection, but is no substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO.
- Make sure appliances are installed according to manufacturer's instructions and local building codes. Most appliances should be installed by professionals.
- Have the heating system, including chimneys and vents, inspected and serviced annually. An inspector should check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
- Only burn charcoal outdoors -- never inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
- Do not use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.
- Turn off any gas-powered engine (car, truck, motorcycle, ATV, lawn mower, chainsaw or generator) inside an attached garage or basement. Even if the garage door is open, you can still be affected by CO. If you must test the engine, take it outdoors before starting it.
- Refer to the owner's manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning appliances, and get help from a professional if you are unsure how to service such equipment.
- If you use a fuel-burning appliance for approved indoor uses (such as a heater), make sure it is vented to the outdoors following manufacturer’s instructions. Do not use an unvented fuel-burning appliance in any room with closed doors or windows or in any room where people are sleeping.
- Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
- Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
- Choose properly sized wood-burning stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood-burning stoves fit tightly.