Carbon Monoxide

What is Carbon Monoxide?

 Diagram of home with potential sources of carbon monoxideCarbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless and toxic gas, and is often referred to as the 'silent killer". When inhaled it inhibits the blood's capacity to transport oxygen throughout the body. It can poison the body quickly in high concentrations, or slowly over long periods of time.

What Are Symptoms Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning ?

Exposure to CO can cause flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning eyes, confusion, drowsiness and even loss of consciousness, In severe cases, CO poisoning can cause brain damage and death. The elderly, children and people with heart or respiratory conditions may be particularly sensitive to CO.

How Much Of a Problem Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning ?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), has stated that CO is the largest cause of accidental poisoning in the American Home. At least 250 people die in the US each year from l CO poisoning and many more are hospitalized.  However, the Mayo Clinic published a report in 1984 that indicated much higher numbers. That report suggests that more than 1,500 people die from accidental CO poisoning annually and that 10,000 or more receive hospital or medical treatment. It goes on to say the numbers are likely much higher because reporting and recording procedures for CO incidents are not reliable

How Is Carbon Monxide Generated In The Home ?

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of incomplete combustion of fuel such as natural gas, propane, heating oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal, gasoline or wood. This incomplete combustion can occur in any device that depends on burning for energy or heat, such as furnaces, room heaters, fireplaces, hot water heaters, stoves or grills and any gas powered vehicle or engine. Automobiles left running in attached garages, gas barbecues operated inside the house, grills or kerosene heaters that are not properly vented, or chimneys or vents that are dirty or plugged may create unsafe levels of CO. When properly installed, maintained and vented, any CO produced by these devices will not stay inside the home.

Why Is CO A Problem Now?

CO has been with us for many years. Fifteen years ago our homes were built in a manner that encouraged air leakage, therefore air exchange occurred within the home on a regular basis.  Today's homes are super-insulated, sealed and wrapped in plastic. This "sealing" of the home creates an environment that not only captures and holds pollutants but often results in a "negative indoor pressure" that can and does draw toxic fumes back into the home

Where Should A Carbon Monoxide Detector Be Installed In The Home ?

Carbon Monoxide alarmProper placement of a CO detector is important. In general, the human body is most vulnerable to the effects of CO during sleeping hours, so a detector should be located in or as near as possible to the sleeping area of the home. If only one detector is being installed, it should be located near the sleeping area, where it can wake you if you are asleep. Where sleeping areas are located in separate parts of the home, a detector should be provided for each area. Additional CO detectors should be placed on each level of a residence and in other rooms where combustion devices are located (such as in a room that contains a solid fuel-fired appliance, gas clothes dryer or natural gas furnace), or adjacent to potential sources of CO (such as in a teenager's room or granny suite located adjacent to an attached garage). Unlike smoke, which rises to the ceiling, CO mixes with air. Recognizing this, a CO detector should be located at knee-height (which is about the same as prone sleeping height). Due to the possibility of tampering or damage by pets, children, vacuum cleaners and the like, it may be located up to chest height. To work properly, a detector should not be blocked by furniture, draperies or other obstructions to normal air flow. If a combination smoke/carbon monoxide detector is used, it should be located on the ceiling, to ensure that it will detect smoke effectively. Please refer to the manufacturer's instructions for additional information regarding proper use and maintenance.

If You Suspect Carbon Monoxide In Your Home

If you or anyone else in your home is experiencing the symptoms of CO poisoning, ensure that everyone leaves the home immediately, leaving the door open. Call 911 from a neighbours' telephone. If your CO detector sounds do NOT assume it to be a false alarm. Open all doors and windows to ventilate the home. If you cannot find the problem and the alarm continues, contact the fire department. If there is a strong smell of natural gas in your home, evacuate immediately, leaving the door open, and contact your local gas utility. If no symptoms are experienced, reset the detector and check to see if the alarm activates. If the detector sounds a second time, call the local fire department for their assistance. If the detector does not sound a second time, check for common conditions that may have caused a CO build-up or contact a qualified heating contractor to check your fuel-burning equipment.  Home heating safety information is available on the Technical Standards and Safety Authority website at  http://www.tssa.org

Source of this article: Fire Marshall's Public Fire Safety Council.

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