poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) is produced by the incomplete
combustion of the fossil fuels -- gas, oil, coal and wood used
in boilers, engines, oil burners, gas fired heaters, water
heaters, solid fuel appliances and open fires.
Toxic or lethal amounts of CO can accumulate when fuel is not
burned properly (1) as a result of poor installation, (2) poor
maintenance or (3) failure of or damage to an appliance in
service. Too, combustion byproducts can build up in rooms that
are so poorly ventilated the CO is unable to escape.
Having no smell, taste or color, CO can kill without warning.
Detection has become a must in today's world of improved insulation
and double glazing. It has become increasingly important to
have good ventilation, maintain all appliances regularly and
to install absolutely reliable detector alarms, giving both
a visual and audible warning immediately if there is a buildup
of CO to dangerous levels. And it is for these reasons that
CO detectors are the only way to alert you to increasingly
dangerous levels of CO before tragedy strikes.
What Are the Effects of Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide poisons by entering the lungs via the normal
breathing mechanism and displacing oxygen from the bloodstream.
This interruption of the normal supply of oxygen puts at risk
the functions of the heart, brain and other vital parts of
Monoxide produces the following effects on people
exposed to the concentrations shown:
Concentration of CO
(parts per million)
| Inhalation Time & Toxic
||Slight headache within 2-3 hours
||Frontal headache within 1-2 hours, becoming widespread
in 3 hours
||Dizziness, nausea, convulsions within 45 minutes,
insensible in 2 hours
||Headache, dizziness, nausea within 20 minutes.
Death less than 2 hours.
||Headache, dizziness in 1 to 2 minutes. Death in
less than 20 minutes.
The above information applies to a healthy adult. Persons
suffering from heart or respiratory health problems, infants
and small children, unborn children, expectant mothers and
pets can be affected by CO poisoning more quickly than others
in the household and may be the first to show symptoms.
The side-effects that can result from this low-level exposure
include permanent organ and brain damage. Infants and the elderly
are more susceptible than healthy adults, as are those with
anemia or heart disease. The symptoms of low-level carbon monoxide
poisoning are so easily mistaken for those of the common cold,
flu or exhaustion that proper diagnosis can be delayed. Because
of this, be sure to see your physician about persistent, flu-like
symptoms, chronic fatigue or generalized depression.
Why is CO So Dangerous?
Carbon monoxide is dangerous because a person may not recognize
drowsiness as a symptom of poisoning. Consequently, someone
with mild poisoning can go to sleep and continue to breathe
the carbon monoxide until severe poisoning or death occurs.
Some people with long-standing mild carbon monoxide poisoning
caused by furnaces or heaters may mistake their symptoms for
other conditions, such as the flu or other viral infections.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is diagnosed by measuring the level
of carbon monoxide in the blood.
Why is Poisoning from Carbon Monoxide on
- Today’s houses are more air-tight due to energy
conserving measures. Consequently, there is less fresh air
coming into a home while not as many pathways exist for stale
or polluted air to leave it. In turn, furnaces and boilers
are starved of the oxygen needed to burn fuels completely
and carbon monoxide is produced. Many newer houses are so
airtight that powered exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom
can overcome the draft in the furnace chimney and literally
pull the toxic gases into the living space.
- The new high-efficiency gas and oil furnaces, when
hooked up to outdated flues, often do not perform at an optimum
level. The differences in performance mean combustion byproducts
can more easily enter home living spaces.
- The above conditions join a number of older, ongoing
problems including damaged or deteriorating flue liners,
and soot build-up.
What Should You Do to Prevent CO Poisoning?
- Have the heating system (including chimneys and
vents) inspected and serviced annually. The inspector should
also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial
and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
- Install a CO detector/alarm that meets the requirements
of the current UL standard 2034 or the requirements of the
IAS 6-96 standard. A carbon monoxide detector/alarm can provide
added protection, but is no substitute for proper use and
upkeep of your chimney and appliances that can produce CO.
- Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment
inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
- Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper
knowledge, skills, and tools. Call a professional who knows
what to look for. When performing minor adjustments yourself,
always refer to the owner's manual .
- Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances
in any room with closed doors or windows or in any room where
people are sleeping.
Reprinted with permission
from the Chimney Safety Institute of America, www.csia.org