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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: A Deadly Gas

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: A Deadly Gas

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that results from incomplete fuel combustion.

· Combustion: the process of producing and releasing energy, such as heat and/or light, in the presence of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen

· Fossil fuels, such as natural gas, oil, and coal, contain carbon and hydrogen

During complete combustion, carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) combine with oxygen (O) to produce carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). Complete combustion needs a plentiful air supply so that the elements react fully with oxygen.

· For example, when we light a candle, the heat from the wick vaporizes wax (hydrogen and carbon), which reacts with oxygen in air. Carbon dioxide and water are released and dissipate into air. Nothing remains once the candle is consumed

· Complete, or clean, combustion produces only carbon dioxide and water

During incomplete combustion, carbon is not completely converted. Water is still produced, but carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon (soot) are produced instead of carbon dioxide.

· The burning of coal and wood are examples of incomplete combustion. While both produce large amounts of heat, both produce soot and carbon monoxide

Properly maintained gas flames produce small amounts of carbon monoxide, with 400 parts per million (ppm) being the maximum allowed. Most burners produce between 0 and 50 ppm. During incomplete combustion, carbon monoxide concentrations may reach levels above 7,000 ppm.

Common sources of Carbon Monoxide

· Clothes dryers

· Water heaters

· Furnaces or boilers

· Fireplaces, gas and wood burning

· Gas stoves

· Motor vehicles

· Grills, generators, power tools, lawn equipment

· Wood stoves

· Tobacco smoke

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to every cell in our body. When CO is inhaled, it attaches to the red blood cells, in place of oxygen. Because the red blood cell is now carrying CO, it deprives the heart, brain, and other vital organs of oxygen.

Mild CO poisoning: Most people recover quickly when moved into fresh air

· Headache

· Nausea

· Dizziness

· Difficulty concentrating

· Vomiting

· Drowsiness

· Poor coordination.

Moderate or severe CO poisoning: Many are not able to move themselves and must be rescued

· Impaired judgment

· Confusion

· Unconsciousness

· Seizures, chest pain

· Short of breath

· Low blood pressure

· Coma.

Severe CO poisoning is often fatal

CO poisoning is diagnosed with a blood test that measures the level of carbon monoxide:

· Normal: 1% to 3%

· Smokers: up to 10%

· Toxic effects: 15% to 20%

· Severe poisoning: 25%

Prevention

· Install a CO detector

· Buy only gas equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL)

· Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly

Every year:

· Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician

· Have your chimney checked or cleaned

· Have a mechanic check the exhaust system of your car or truck

Never

· Use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors

· Use a gas oven for heating

· Burn charcoal indoors

· Use a portable gas camp stove indoors

· Use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage, or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent

· Run your car or truck inside a garage that is attached to a house even with the garage door open

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