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Carbon Monoxide Law Help

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuel, including natural gas, propane and even firewood. Appliances fueled with these fuels may produce CO. Since CO is a deadly gas, it is important to properly ventilate all areas where people may be present.

Where does CO come from?

Carbon monoxide is produced when a device fails to completely burn fuel. Therefore, any fuel-burning appliance in your home is a potential CO source.  Under normal circumstances, CO should not be detectable in the typical home or workplace.

When appliances are kept in good working condition, they produce little CO, and this CO should be vented away from people. But improperly operating or improperly vented appliances can produce excessive carbon monoxide. Long-term exposure to low levels of CO can be just as deadly as short-term, high-level exposure to this poisonous gas. Also, using kerosene heaters or charcoal grills indoors, or running a car in a garage, can cause high levels of CO in the air you breath.

Common sources of CO include the following wood or gas fueled appliances:

  • Room heaters
  • Furnaces
  • Charcoal grills
  • Cooking ranges
  • Water heaters
  • Automobiles run in closed garages
  • Fireplaces
  • Portable generators
  • Wood burning stoves
  • Boilers
Who is at risk of CO poisoning?

Any person or animal in space shared with a device capable of generating CO should be considered at risk of CO poisoning. CO exposure is even more dangerous for unborn babies, infants, and people with anemia or a history of heart disease. Breathing low levels of the chemical can cause fatigue and increase chest pain in people with chronic heart disease. CO poisoning can even result in permanent damage to your heart.

Each year, nearly 5,000 people in the United States are treated in hospital emergency rooms for CO poisoning; however, this number is believed to be an underestimate of CO poisoning because many people with CO symptoms mistake the symptoms for the flu or are misdiagnosed.

Why is CO called the silent killer?

Carbon monoxide poisoning can kill without warning, as your family sleeps.

Because CO gas has no warning properties; that is, it has no odor and has no color, even at toxic or life threatening levels, it is considered a silent killer.

Although not always experienced, the initial symptoms of CO are similar to the flu (but without the fever). But it can also mimic other ailments like gastric flu or stomach upset, the symptoms of CO poisoning include:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Irregular breathing

It is critical to note that death from CO poisoning can result with some or all of these symptoms never being experienced, in which case the overexposed victim simply “falls asleep” and never regains consciousness.

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

Dangerous levels of CO can be prevented by making sure that any appliance in or around your home that burns fuel is regularly serviced and cleaned. Also, make sure to have an annual inspection of the ventilation system that is designed to remove CO from your home, including the fireplace chimney. You can minimize risk of CO poisoning by purchasing a CO detector and placing them throughout the living space of your home and next to your bedroom. Be sure to purchase a CO detector that has a battery back-up

To avoid CO poisoning, follow the tips provided in our “Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Prevention” page.

How do CO alarms work?

A CO detector sounds an alarm because it detects an elevated level of CO in the household. Different brands of detectors are designed with different options and features. Some are made to sound an alarm at persistent, low levels of CO while others will sound an alarm only at life-threatening levels. Some detectors are more sensitive than others and will detect an alarm sooner than other varieties of alarms. Some CO detectors may produce alarms at a low level even though the level may not be immediately dangerous.

Where should the detector be installed?

CO gas distributes evenly and fairly quickly throughout the house; therefore, a CO detector should be installed in sleeping portions of the house, but outside individual bedrooms, in order to alert all occupants who are sleeping in that part of the house. We also recommend that a detector is fitted in the general living area of the house, the area in which you spend most time. People can make the mistake of fitting the alarm next to the furnace, this is not good because CO detectors do not like extreme changes in temperature. Also, the furnace is normally located in a remote portion of the home where you may not hear the alarm.

Do not place the detector within five feet of household chemicals as they may damage the unit or cause false alarms. Wall or ceiling installations are acceptable locations for mounting CO detectors, but always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing a CO detector. If your detector is wired directly into your home’s electrical system, you should test it monthly. If your unit operates off of a battery, test the detector weekly and replace the battery at least once a year.

Responding to CO alarms

A CO detector alarm indicates elevated levels of CO in the home. Never ignore the alarm or otherwise silence it unless a qualified individual has examined the affected area and deemed it safe.

If your alarm sounds, immediately leave the home, even if you are not feeling symptoms of CO poisoning (headache, dizziness, or other flu-like symptoms). Immediately call first responders, and tell them your CO detector has sounded the alarm. When they arrive, ask them to measure the CO levels in your home. Your first responder should place you and your family on 100% oxygen to counter the effects of CO poisoning.

If you are transported to the hospital, request a COHb blood test. This measures the levels of carbon monoxide in your blood. Tell your doctor how long you were on oxygen before you arrived at the hospital, so he or she will know how to interpret the COHb levels in your blood.

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