FIRE PREVENTION - CARBON MONOXIDE
CARBON MONOXIDE: THE SILENT KILLER
Colorless, odorless but deadly
Carbon monoxide (CO) is difficult to detect because it is colorless, odorless, tasteless but it is the number 1 cause of poisoning in the United States. CO is the byproduct of combustion and it can kill you before you even know it is there!
Any fuel burning appliance, vehicle, and many other devices have the potential to produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide gas. CO can be produced by:
- Fuel fired furnaces (non electric)
- Gas water heaters
- Fireplaces and wood stoves
- Gas stoves
- Gas dryers
- Charcoal grills
- Lawnmowers, snow blowers and other yard equipment (non electric)
CO can cause illness and death
The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that approximately 200 people per year are killed by accidental CO poisoning with an additional 5000 people injured. These deaths and injuries are typically caused by improperly used or malfunctioning equipment aggravated by improvements in building construction which limit the amount of fresh air flowing in to homes and other structures. The Department of Energy is concerned about CO levels indoors, because its weatherization programs to save energy can tighten houses and other buildings enough to increase CO concentrations.
Medical effects of Carbon Monoxide
CO inhibits the blood's ability to carry oxygen to body tissues including vital organs such as the heart and brain. When CO is inhaled, it combines with the oxygen carrying hemoglobin of the blood to form carboxyhemoglobin. Once combined with the hemoglobin, that hemoglobin is no longer available to transport oxygen throughout the body, thus depriving the body of necessary oxygen. How quickly the carboxyhemoglobin builds up is a factor of the concentration being breathed (measured in parts per million or PPM) and the duration of the exposure.
Aggravating the effects of the exposure is the long half-life of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood. Half-life is a measure of how quickly levels return to normal. The half-life of carboxyhemoglobin is approximately 5 hours. This means that for a give exposure level, it will take about 5 hours for the level to drop in half once the exposure is terminated.
Recognizing the effects of CO
Carbon monoxide poisoning is often confused with "flu like symptoms" such as headache, nausea, dizziness. Make sure all family members are aware of symptoms.
||Headache and dizziness within 6-8 hours of constant exposure
||Slight headache after 2-3 hours
||Frontal headache 1-2 hours
||Dizziness, nausea, convulsions within 45 minutes
||Headache dizziness and nausea within 20 minutes, Death can result in 1-2 hours at this level.
||Headache, dizziness and nausea in 5 - 10 minutes. Death can result in 30 minutes at this level.
||Headache, dizziness and nausea in 1 - 2 minutes. Death can result in 20 minutes at this level.
||Unconscious after 2-3 breaths. Death in less than three minutes.
How to protect yourself
To protect yourself and your family you need to have Carbon monoxide detectors in your home. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends a detector on each floor of a residence. At a minimum, a single detector should be placed on each sleeping floor with an additional detector in the area of any major gas burning appliances such as a furnace or water heater. Installation in these areas ensures rapid detection of any potentially malfunctioning appliances and the ability to hear the alarm from all sleeping areas. Consult the manufacturers installation instructions for proper placement of a detector within a given area. In general, carbon monoxide detectors should be placed high (near the ceiling) for most effective use.
What to do if you suspect CO poisoning
- Call 9-1-1
- Open windows to ventilate the area.
- Shut off your furnace and other fuel burning appliances.
- If anyone is experiencing symptoms, get everyone, including pets, out of your home or building.
- Don't return to your home until the source is found and the problem is corrected.
A yearly checkup of all fuel-burning venting systems in the home is desirable. A yearly checkup of all combustion appliances is suggested. In many areas, upon request, the gas company will provide this service. All gas appliances must have adequate ventilation so that CO will not accumulate. Chimney vents often become blocked by debris causing a buildup of CO. They should be checked annually. Often a makeshift patch on vent pipes can lead to an accumulation of CO, and therefore should be avoided. In-room vent pipes should be on a slight incline as they go toward the exterior. This will reduce leaking of toxic gases in case the joints or pipes are improperly fitted. Using a gas range for heating can result in the accumulation of CO. The use of barbecue grills indoors will quickly result in dangerous levels of CO. Burning charcoal (whether black, red, gray or white) gives off CO. Using a gas camp stove for heating the home, cabin or camper call result in the accumulation of CO. Never run your car in a garage unless the outside door is open to provide ventilation. Doors connecting a garage and house should be kept closed when the auto is running. Buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency; otherwise, one may get poorly designed equipment, which may soon result in the production of CO.
ALL New York Homes Must Have Carbon Monoxide Alarms as of February 22, 2010
A new state law, known as Amanda’s Law, was effective as of February 22, 2010, and requires all residences, both new and existing, to have carbon monoxide alarms installed.
The law is named for Amanda Hansen, 16, of West Seneca, New York, who was found unconscious at a friend's house in January 2009. Officials later determined she had been exposed to lethal levels of carbon monoxide in the home's basement, where she and her friend were having a sleepover. She later died at South Buffalo Mercy Hospital. A malfunctioning boiler in the home caused CO to build up causing her death.
The new law requires all homes to have a carbon monoxide detector installed to alert residents of the presence of carbon monoxide. Homes built before Jan. 1, 2008, will be permitted to have battery-powered alarms while homes built after that date will need to have the alarms hard-wired in. The gas is odorless and colorless and can cause flu-like symptoms. Without the detectors residents often do not realize their home is filling with CO. CO is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the U.S. “Carbon monoxide alarms save lives,” said State Fire Administrator Floyd A. Madison, adding that carbon monoxide poisoning is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the United States. “More than 2,100 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year and over 10,000 people are injured, including, on average, 100 New Yorkers.
Carbon monoxide can be produced when burning any fuel such as; gasoline, charcoal, propane, natural gas, kerosene, oil, wood, or coal. If any flammable or combustible material burns incompletely, carbon monoxide is produced. Carbon monoxide can kill in minutes or hours depending on the level of carbon monoxide in the air.
Detectors should be installed near bedrooms, common gathering areas and near appliances, such as stoves, furnaces and water heaters that may emit the monoxide.
Contact NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control for more information. A copy of their brochure can be downloaded by clicking here!