by Bret Hanna
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 500 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning from a source inside their home, while another 8,000 to 15,000 people are treated each year for carbon monoxide poisoning not resulting in death.
Carbon monoxide is produced by incomplete combustion of fuels, and it kills people because carbon monoxide molecules displace oxygen molecules in the body. Everyone is at risk. The young, the elderly, those with respiratory system deficits, anemia and chronic heart disease are more vulnerable, but all oxygen breathers are at risk. That includes pets.
Carbon monoxide is particularly dangerous because it is odor-less, colorless and does not have a taste. As such, people cannot detect its presence with their senses. Also, symptoms of early exposure to increasing levels of carbon monoxide mimic those of the flu, often leading people to overlook the possibility that they are being poisoned by it. Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, weakness, vomiting, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, lightheadedness and confusion.
Carbon monoxide is naturally present inside and outside the home. That said, typical levels should not exceed the federal standard of 9 parts per million for outside air. If indoor levels of carbon monoxide exceed outdoor levels to any notable degree, there is a source of carbon monoxide inside the home that must be investigated.
While high-level carbon monoxide exposure is very dangerous, it is also easily preventable. Properly maintaining fuel burning appliances in the home, including those in utility rooms and basements, garages and attached sheds, is a very effective way to avoid expo-sure. Never use portable combustible fuel appliances outside the home within 20 feet of doors, windows or vents. Gas ranges and ovens, furnaces, water heaters, gas and wood burning fireplaces, wood stoves and gas clothes dryers inside the home (including basements) must be periodically checked for proper operation and be maintained in good working order.
In garages and attached sheds, power tools, lawn mowers and generators must be used with ample, constant ventilation. Vehicles should never be left running in garages or enclosed carports. If the desire is to warm a vehicle up, move the car out of the garage or carport into an open area to do so. Also, have chimneys cleaned annually and appliance vents checked annually for leaks.
Prevention is key, but detection is as well. Investing in carbon monoxide detectors for the home is imperative for proper protection against poisoning. Although they can be expensive, they are very effective at detecting elevated levels of carbon monoxide that can endanger home occupants. Detectors should be placed near sleeping areas, but located where they will wake-up occupants of the house.
Detectors should also be placed near gas burning appliances in the home, such as near fireplaces and utility rooms. The best detectors plug into outlets and have a battery back-up. Replace the batteries in each detector when clocks are changed in the spring and fall. Some detectors also have digital readouts, which can track levels of carbon monoxide in the home in addition to alarming when levels exceed those that are safe. These can help identify developing problems. Finally, replace detectors every five years.