Silent But Deadly: Carbon Monoxide in Your Home

According to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an average of 170 people in the United States die every year in their home from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Due to malfunctioning non-automotive products, such as appliances like furnaces, heaters, gas stoves, and even fire places, carbon monoxide can be leaked into your home where it can become trapped. Overtime, its concentration may rise to hazardous levels. This goes to show that a number of people are not well informed about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and how you could get poisoned by carbon monoxide.

 

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Common appliances such as kerosene heaters can cause carbon monoxide leaks if malfunctiong

 

What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a natural gaseous chemical composed of one carbon atom and one hydrogen atom. It is formed by the incomplete combustion of gas in engines, furnaces, and other gas-based appliances. It has no smell and no color, making it completely undetectable by human senses.

 

Why is Carbon Monoxide so hazardous?
Carbon monoxide is extremely hazardous to humans and other animals even in small concentrations. This is because carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in our bloodstream by binding to the iron found within our blood. Thus, the oxygen carrying capacity of our blood is reduced. If enough carbon monoxide is present in our bloodstream, a sufficient amount of oxygen cannot be delivered all throughout the body. The brain, which is highly dependent on oxygen, will be the first organ to be affected. Once carbon monoxide enters our bloodstream through our lungs, it is extremely difficult for the body to remove it, and so it remains in the body for extended period of times, continuing to deprive the body of oxygen. When this happens, it is called carbon monoxide poisoning.

 

What are the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning?
Prolonged exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide will cause symptoms similar to the flu, such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath, without experiencing fever. With continued exposure, these symptoms will continue to get worse, eventually causing unconsciousness.

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Tell-tale symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning

 

What are recommended exposure limits to Carbon Monoxide?

Concentration of CO

Effects

1ppm

Typical outdoor levels in rural areas

3ppm

Typical outdoor levels in urban areas

9ppm

Recommended maximum long-term exposure limit

50ppm

First signs of intoxication symptoms, CO detectors will alarm

125ppm

Headache and fatigue after 1-2 hours

200ppm

Headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness after 1 – 2 hours

400ppm

Life threatening after 3 hours

800ppm

Life threatening after 1 hour

 

How can I avoid carbon monoxide poisoning?
It is advised that if you have appliances that involve the combustion of fuels that you install a carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Carbon monoxide detectors will alarm you when carbon monoxide levels are approaching hazardous levels. If your carbon monoxide detector alarms, immediately evacuate your house. Do not look for the source of the carbon monoxide leak! Unconsciousness due to CO poisoning can happen very suddenly and you may not have time to evacuate your home if you look for the source. Also, never assume your CO detector is giving a false alarm. As the old saying goes, better safe than sorry. Once you have evacuated your home, call the fire department and they will send professionals to inspect your home for a carbon monoxide leak.  

In addition, make sure all your gas consuming appliances are inspected to ensure they do not leak carbon monoxide and will not malfunction. Avoid using propane burning appliances such as barbeques indoors, and ensure fireplaces are properly vented with a chimney.  

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