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Carbon Monoxide – The Deadly Killer

CO. One atom of Carbon, one atom of Oxygen. Carbon Monoxide… and it’s poison. Carbon Monoxide attaches more readily to the blood of mammals than oxygen, and it doesn’t let go. In a room of mostly air blood will still steadily bind with small amounts of carbon monoxide over time.

Here’s a true story about a carbon monoxide detector in the home.

It happens in central Florida as well as in Riverdale, Maryland, where recently all 6 members of a family woke late one winter night experiencing headaches and flu-like symptoms. They knew something was drastically wrong and immediately headed to the emergency room. It was there that they every member of the family was diagnosed with acute carbon monoxide poisoning.

The fire department was immediately dispatched to the family’s home. After rescuing the family dog they tested the home’s air which confirmed that CO levels were 200 parts per million – four to seven times above the unsafe level of 35 to 50 ppm. The fire department investigation showed that the elevated levels of Carbon Monoxide was due to a problem with a recently installed water heater. Fortunately the dog and the family survived and recovered. The water heater was fixed, and a carbon monoxide detector was installed in the home by emergency workers.

“The Invisible Killer”

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – It’s not as uncommon as one might think. Below, another recent news story released on Nov 30th, 2015 from ABC News, where 12 Texas Residents became Hospitalized After a Carbon Monoxide Leak – See the Video Below.

Cases of carbon monoxide poisoning don’t always turn out so well. In fact, the U.S, Consumer Product Safety Commission calls carbon monoxide “The Invisible Killer.” The colorless, odorless and highly poisonous gas is responsible for 230,000 visits to hospital emergency departments every year. In an average year, 430 Americans die as a result of carbon monoxide exposure.

As the Maryland family’s case demonstrates, high-level exposure to carbon monoxide (known as acute exposure) can be dramatic and extremely dangerous. The result can be sudden, severe illness or even death. However, chronic exposure to lower levels of carbon monoxide over months or years can also cause a number of serious health problems, including frequent headaches, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea and mental fatigue.

Where does carbon monoxide come from?

Carbon monoxide is formed primarily by the incomplete burning of fuels such as wood, oil, coal, charcoal, natural gas and propane. It is released outdoors by combustion engines in cars, trucks and other vehicles. Carbon monoxide is also produced by industrial plants. Indoors, the sources of carbon monoxide include unvented kerosene and gas heaters, leaking chimneys and fireplaces, back-drafting from furnaces and water heaters, and other combustion sources. When combustion appliances inside a home are not correctly adjusted, levels of carbon monoxide can soar.

How carbon monoxide affects the body

Carbon monoxide is harmful when it is inhaled. It poisons the body by attaching to the molecules (hemoglobin) that normally carry oxygen in the blood. As carbon monoxide attaches to these molecules, less oxygen can be delivered throughout the body. The result is tissue damage or even death, as the heart, brain and other vital organs are affected.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be halted and reversed when it is caught in time. But even in these cases, the heart, brain and reproductive processes can be permanently damaged.

Steps to prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Prevention is the most important strategy for reducing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. Here are some preventive actions you can take:

Use a Professional:

Keep combustion appliances in your home properly adjusted. Any fuel-burning appliances should be inspected by a trained professional every year at the beginning of the heating season.

Never Keep Your Car Running in the Garage

This may seem like a no brainer, but people are killed and hospitalized every day due to this. Never idle a car in the garage, even if the door is open. Fumes build up quickly — even with the garage door open — and can quickly affect the living area of your home as well.

Charcoal Grills Can be Deadly Indoors and in Partially Enclosed Spaces

Never use a charcoal grill indoors or in attached garages. This includes never using these devices in a fireplace.

Unvented Kerosene Heaters

Never sleep in a room with an unvented gas or kerosene heater. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is greatest when you are sleeping, because you may not be aware of early symptoms until it’s too late.
Install a CO detector. A detector will warn you if carbon monoxide levels are elevated. However, do not be lulled into a false sense of security.

A CO detector is a back-up, not a replacement for the suggestions above.

KCRG-TV9 Reported that yet another family of four in Waterloo Iowa gives credit to their CO Detector for saving their lives (see video below).

By taking action to monitor, reduce and control carbon monoxide levels, you can lessen the threat of this “Invisible Killer” in your home. For more information on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and additional steps you can take to protect your household, visit http://www.epa.gov.

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