Carbon Monoxide Facts and Safety

Carbon monoxide detectors save lives by detecting this deadly gas! Every home should have one (or more).

Carbon monoxide, also known as CO, is a colorless, odorless gas. This means you can’t see it or smell it. It is, therefore, difficult to detect. Unfortunately CO is harmful and can be deadly to humans. Since it is difficult to detect, it is hard to say how many times people are exposed to CO. Some illnesses attributed to the flu could actually be carbon monoxide poisoning.

Technical stuff – Normally, oxygen is carried to the cells in the human body by attaching to the red blood cells. Unfortunately, carbon monoxide attaches to the red blood cells about 10 times easier than oxygen. Once a CO molecule is attached to the red blood cell, oxygen cannot attach. Therefore the effect is to smother the cells of the body even though you probably feel no difficulty breathing. The human body is accustomed to about 21% oxygen. Level of CO as low as 50 parts per million (0.005%) can be harmful over time. Exposure to 400 parts per million (0.4%) will cause harmful effects in a short period. – End technical stuff

Carbon monoxide is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned. Fossil fuels include natural gas, petroleum products, wood, coal, and even paper. Since petroleum products are used to make plastics and synthetic materials, these too release CO when burned. It is safe to say that carbon monoxide is present most times flame is present. Devices such as furnaces, hot water heaters, dryers, and other fuel burning appliances usually vent the CO they produce to the outside where it dissipates harmlessly. Automobiles release large quantities of CO from their exhaust pipes.

Carbon monoxide exposure seems to be more common in the cold months. This could be due to the fact that more fuel burning appliances are in use. This is coupled with buildings that are closed tightly reducing natural ventilation. For this reason gas, oil, wood, propane, and other fuel burning items must be properly vented. Chimneys and flues must be unobstructed and a source of fresh air for combustion must be maintained. Gas dryers must be vented to the outside. An exhaust fan that vents outdoors should be in use any time a gas stove or oven is on.

Automobiles should never be run in the garage (even with the door open). They should not even be run near the house for any length of time.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure vary. They can include flu like symptoms, headache, nausea, lack of energy, etc. The skin can turn cherry red. Red skin is a very late sign and is rarely seen except in extremely severe exposures.

Green Township Fire and EMS response to Carbon Monoxide alarms