The Silent Killer

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fossil fuels such as gasoline, wood, or coal, burn incompletely. In the home, gas heating and cooking equipment, fireplaces, and gas water heaters are possible sources of CO. Vehicles running in attached garages also produce dangerous levels of CO. The importance of understanding the risks of this dangerous gas cannot be understated.

In the Bloodstream

CO prevents oxygen from combining with hemoglobin and restricts oxygen delivery to vital organs. Depending on the length and severity of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause a number of symptoms. Mild exposure can result in a series of “flu-like” symptoms including, slight headache, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Medium exposure can produce headaches, drowsiness, confusion, and rapid heart rate. Extreme exposure can produce unconsciousness, convulsions, heart and lung fatigue, brain damage, and eventually death.

Defending Against CO

The best defenses against CO poisoning are safe use of vehicles, particularly in attached garages. In the home, proper installation, use and maintenance of household gas cooking and heating equipment.  Appliances should be checked annually by trained technicians to ensure they are working properly. Additionally, the installation of CO detectors in homes is highly recommended. These detectors may serve as your last line of defense to this silent killer, providing early warning of accumulating CO and alerting you to a possible dangerous situation before it’s too late.

A Note About Detectors

It is important to note that CO detectors are very sensitive and may occasionally give a false indication of a problem. If this occurs, it is important to evaluate the conditions of the occupants immediately. If ANY symptoms of CO poisoning are present, the building should be immediately and completely evacuated and the fire department should be summoned by calling 9-1-1. If no indications of CO poisoning are present, the detector may be reset. If the detector activates persist, do not hesitate to call the fire department via 9-1-1 again.