Backgrounder: Carbon Monoxide (CO) Dangers and Poisoning

Posted on 24.12.2014 in the General category

CO poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in North America. The following facts can help families to be aware of the risks and symptoms of CO poisoning.

CO Poisoning Facts

  • CO is often called the silent killer because it is odorless, tasteless and undetectable.
  • CO is produced anytime a fossil fuel is burned. Potential sources include gas or oil furnaces, water heaters, space heaters, clothes dryers, barbecue grills, fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, gas ovens, generators, and car exhaust fumes.
  • At high concentration levels CO can be fatal in minutes. Rapidly accumulating in the blood, CO binds to the hemoglobin in your bloodstream, which displaces the oxygen that cells need to function.

CO Symptoms

  • Mild Exposure: “Flu-like” symptoms including slight headache, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
  • Medium Exposure: Severe throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion and increased heart rate.
  • Extreme Exposure: Unconsciousness, convulsions, cardio respiratory failure and death.

CO Prevention Tips

  • Install at least one battery-powered CO alarm or AC-powered alarm with battery backup outside sleeping areas of your home, or follow local laws and bylaws. The National Fire Protection Association recommends one CO alarm per floor plus outside bedrooms.
  • Install only CO alarms that are CSA-approved.
  • Replace CO alarms that are 7-10 years old, depending on the manufacturer.
  • Have a licensed professional inspect heating systems and other fuel-burning appliances annually.
  • Keep chimneys clear of animal nests, leaves and residue to ensure proper venting. Have all fireplaces cleaned and inspected annually.
  • Do not block (snow, trash) or seal shut the exhaust flues or vents and ducts used by water heaters, ranges and clothes dryers.
  • Never leave your car running in an attached garage or carport.
  • Do not use ovens or stoves to heat your home.
  • During a power outage, never operate a gas-fuelled generator inside the home or in attached enclosed spaces such as porches, patios or garages. Only operate the generator outdoors in a well-ventilated, dry area, away from air intakes into the home.
  • Do not use charcoal or gas grills inside or outdoors near a window where CO fumes could seep in.

CO Information Sources

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