Carbon Monoxide Dangers and Prevention Issues

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause illness and death. CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, flu-like symptoms, and confusion. Breathing in high levels of CO can cause loss of consciousness, possible brain damage, and even death.

Even though deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning have declined over the past three decades, it should be acknowledged that CO poisoning is still recognized as being totally preventable.

CO poisoning can be prevented by taking some simple precautions, which include:

Properly install, maintain, and operate all fuel-burning appliances.

Annually inspect furnaces, water heaters, and gas dryers.

Each year, check and clean fireplace chimneys and flues.

Operate un-vented fuel-burning space heaters only while someone is awake to monitor them and doors or windows in the room are open to provide fresh air.

Annually inspect automobile exhaust systems.

Never use a gas range or oven to heat a facility.

Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.

Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented.

Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine outside of an open window or door where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.

Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space.

Never ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die, if you do nothing. In most cases of unintentional poisonings, victims did not realize that carbon monoxide was being produced or building up in the air they were breathing. Carbon monoxide can be easily and cheaply detected; several relatively inexpensive carbon monoxide alarms are available.

If you experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning:

Get fresh air immediately.

Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances, and leave the facility.

Go to an emergency room.

Tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning. If CO poisoning has occurred, it can often be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure.

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