According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. Although CO is often mixed with other gases that do have an odor.
CO is a common industrial hazard resulting from the incomplete burning of natural gas and any other material containing carbon such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal or wood.
How does CO harm you?
According to OSHA, Carbon Monoxide is harmful when breathed because it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain and other vital organs of oxygen.
Besides tightness across the chest, initial symptoms of CO poisoning may include headache, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness or nausea. Sudden chest pain may occur in people with angina.
Symptoms can vary widely from person to person.
CO poisoning can be reversed if caught in time. But even if you recover, acute poising may result in permanent damage to parts of your body that require a lot of oxygen such as the heart and brain.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CO can enter the home in a variety of ways. However, the most common ways for CO to enter include unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke. Incomplete oxidation during combustion in gas ranges and unvented gas or kerosene heaters may also cause high concentrations of CO in indoor air. Worn or poorly adjusted and maintained boilers and furnaces can be significant sources of CO, or if the flue is improperly sized, blocked, disconnected, or is leaking.
CO can also come from auto, truck, or bus exhaust.
To minimize the risk of CO exposure or poisoning, a Minnesota carbon monoxide law went into effect Jan. 1, 2007, that requires all newly-constructed, single and multi-family dwellings have a UL listed CO alarm installed. The law states that one detector be installed within 10 feet of all bedrooms in the home. As of Aug. 1, 2008, all existing single family homes are required to have an appropriate number of CO detectors and on Aug. 1, 2009, all multi-family dwellings needed to come into compliance.
This may mean that some homes will require more than one detector if there are multiple sleeping areas throughout the building.
The manufacturer of First Alert, a brand of carbon monoxide detectors, recommends the following if the CO alarm goes off:
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- Turn off appliances, or other sources of combustion at once.
- Immediately get fresh air into the premises by opening doors and windows.
- Call a qualified technician and have the problem fixed before restarting appliances.
- If anyone is experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headaches, dizziness, vomiting, call the fire department and immediately move to a location that has fresh air.
- Do a head count to be sure all persons are accounted for.
- Do not re-enter the premises until it has been aired out and the problem corrected.
- If anyone is experiencing symptoms, you need to get everyone into fresh air and call 911 from a neighbor’s home. If no one is experiencing symptoms, you should call the fire department or a qualified technician from a neighbor’s home to have the problem inspected. If you are unable to leave the home to call for help, open the doors and windows, and turn off all possible sources while you are waiting for assistance to arrive. Under no circumstance should an alarm be ignored!