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Carbon monoxide: Undetectable, but not indefensible

Protecting people and pets against the "invisible killer."

Post Date:11/05/2019 9:00 AM

The dangers of a home fire are plain to see, but the same can’t be said for an equally deadly household threat – carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, toxic gas. In winter, the use of indoor heating devices such as fire places and fuel-burning appliances can increase the risk of poisoning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 400 Americans die from unintentional, non-fire related CO poisoning each year. An additional 20,000 people visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.

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“Every home should have a working carbon monoxide alarm and understand the dangers of using alternative heating and cooking devices in the home,” said Fire Chief Rick Prinz.  “Today’s energy-efficient homes are designed to be air-tight which requires even more vigilance where the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning are concerned.”

Because the gas is imperceptible to all five senses, CO is virtually undetectable by humans; however, that doesn’t mean people are defenseless against poisoning. Knowledge is the first line of defense and the West Chester Fire Department encourages everyone to take a moment to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is carbon monoxide dangerous?

CO is referred to as the “invisible killer” because it is odorless, colorless and tasteless. When breathed in large quantities, CO displaces oxygen in the blood stream and effectively starves the body of oxygen.

Where does carbon monoxide come from in my house or vehicle?

CO is a by-product of the incomplete combustion of fuels. Devices that burn fuel to operate such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters, fire places and engines are liable to produce lethal amounts of CO.

When does carbon monoxide poisoning occur?

Poisoning typically occurs when CO gas builds up above normal levels inside enclosed spaces such as homes, campers or vehicles, forcing people in those spaces to breathe it in unhealthy amounts.

What are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Initial symptoms can include headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath. More severe symptoms can include mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscle coordination, loss of consciousness, and ultimately death.

Who is at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Because carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the blood stream, all people and pets who rely on breathing oxygen from the air are susceptible to CO poisoning. Infants, the elderly, people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or breathing problems are more likely to get sick according to the CDC.

How can I protect my family against carbon monoxide poisoning?

Install battery-operated CO alarms on all levels of the home. Make sure batteries are changed regularly. Replace alarms entirely after seven years.

Make sure all fuel-burning appliances are vented properly and in good working order. Never place heating devices made for outdoor use in an enclosed space.

If you suspect CO poisoning has occurred, call 911 or contact the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center at 513-636-5111 (national hotline: 1-800-222-1222). If it is safe to do so, move poisoning victims to an open area of fresh air while help arrives.

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