January 4, 2012
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can make you very sick, or even kill you before you are aware it is in your home. It is produced when fuels such as wood, propane, oil, natural gas, kerosene, gasoline, diesel, coal or charcoal do not burn properly.
Health effects associated with Carbon Monoxide
CO can have a significant impact on human health. It enters the bloodstream through the lungs and forms carboxyhemoglobin, a compound that inhibits the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen to organs and tissues. Persons with heart disease are especially sensitive to CO poisoning. Infants, elderly persons, and individuals with respiratory diseases are also particularly sensitive. CO can affect healthy individuals, impairing exercise capacity, visual perception, manual dexterity, learning functions, and ability to perform complex tasks.
A person exposed to CO at low concentrations may display flue-like symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, downiness, burning eyes, confusion and unconsciousness. In server cases, prolonged exposure to CO could result in death. If any one in your home experiences symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your home immediately, seek medical help and call 911 or your local fire department.
How to protect yourself
Proper installation, inspection and maintenance of fuel-burning equipment is your first line of defence against harmful releases of CO in your home. Have your fuel-burning equipment checked regularly by a licensed heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor. As a second line of defence, install one or more CO alarms.
Other steps to reduce exposure to Carbon Monoxide in your home
- Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.
- Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unventilated one.
- Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
- Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
- Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
- Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.
- Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating systems (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.
- Do not idle the car inside garage.
Additional ventilation can be used as a temporary measure when high levels of CO are expected for short periods of time.
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