Carbon monoxide (chemical formula - CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and toxic gas. Nicknamed "the silent killer," carbon monoxide is totally undetectable by human senses and can kill you before you are even aware it is in your home. If there is carbon monoxide in the air you breathe, it will enter your blood system the same way oxygen does, through your lungs. The carbon monoxide displaces the oxygen in your blood, depriving your body of oxygen. When the carbon monoxide displaces enough oxygen, you suffocate.
At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, and fatigue. Exposure to high concentrations of carbon monoxide will cause throbbing headaches, breathing difficulties, confusion and loss of consciousness, cardiac problems and/or death.
The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person, depending on age, overall health, and the concentration and length of exposure. Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning. Medical experts believe that unborn babies, children, senior citizens, and people with heart or lung problems are at an even greater risk for CO poisoning.
According to the United States Fire Administration, more than 150 people die from accidental non-fire related CO poisoning associated with consumer products. Since carbon monoxide is a by-product of incomplete combustion, any fuel-burning appliance, vehicle, or tool that is inadequately vented or maintained can be a potential source of carbon monoxide gas. Examples of fuel-burning equipment include:
There are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from deadly carbon dioxide fumes:
1. The first line of defense is prevention or minimizing the potential for exposure to carbon monoxide gas. People are at an increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter months. Well-insulated, airtight homes (primarily newer construction) and malfunctioning heating equipment can produce dangerously high and potentially deadly concentrations of carbon monoxide.
2. The second line of defense is a carbon monoxide detector alarm. A properly working carbon monoxide detector alarm can provide an early warning, before deadly gases build up to dangerous levels. Install CO detector alarms:
However, do not install a CO detector alarm:
If your alarm sounds, first and foremost, Stay Calm. Most situations resulting in activation of a carbon monoxide detector alarm are not life threatening, but an early warning of a potential problem. Carbon monoxide alarms are designed to sound before there is an immediate life threat. The alarm will also sound when the battery is low or the unit is malfunctioning.
For your own peace of mind and safety you should familiarize yourself and family members with the alarm sound patterns:
If your CO alarm reactivates within a 24-hour period, call 911 and move to fresh air. The source of the CO will need to be further investigated. Contact a qualified appliance technician to inspect all your fuel burning equipment and appliances for possible malfunction. Exposure to the vapors from various household substances (such as paints and paint thinners, adhesives, hair spray, strong perfumes, plug-in and aerosol air fresheners, and household cleaning solvents with strong odors (like pine)) may cause your CO alarm to render a false alarm. Be sure to store and use these substances away from your carbon monoxide detector alarm or in a well-ventilated space.
The sole function of smoke and carbon monoxide detector alarms are to sound a warning. Develop and practice an escape plan to use this precious time.
Note: Installing a carbon monoxide detector alarm does not eliminate the need for a smoke alarm in your home. Carbon monoxide detector alarms do not sense smoke and smoke alarms do not sense carbon monoxide gas.