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Carbon Monoxide



What is carbon monoxide and who is at risk?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless deadly gas. Because you can't see,

taste or smell it, carbon monoxide can kill you before you know it's there.

Everyone is at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Experts believe, however, that

individuals with greater oxygen requirements such as unborn babies, infants, children,

senior citizens and people with coronary or respiratory problems are at greater risk.

Why is carbon monoxide so dangerous?

The great danger of carbon monoxide is its attraction to hemoglobin in the blood-

stream. CO is breathed in through the lungs and bonds with the hemoglobin in

the blood, displacing the oxygen cells needed to function. When CO is present in

the air, it rapidly accumulates in the blood forming a toxic compound known as

carboxyhemoglobin (COHb).

Carboxyhemoglobin causes symptoms similar to the flu, such as headaches, fatigue,

nausea, dizzy spells, confusion and irritability. As levels of COHb increase, vomiting,

loss of consciousness and eventually brain damage or death can result.

Where does carbon monoxide come from?

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion, present when ever fuel is burned.

It is produced by common home appliances, such as gas or oil furnaces, refrigerators

or clothes driers, water heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills, gas ranges, wood burning

stoves and space heaters. Fumes from automobiles also contain CO and can enter

a home through walls and doorways if a car is left running in an attached garage.

All of these sources can contribute to a CO problem in the home. If a home is ventilated

properly and is free from appliance malfunctions, air pressure fluctuations or airway

blockages, CO will most likely be safely vented to the outside. But in today's "energy-

efficient" homes, this is frequently not the case. Insulation meant to keep a house warm

in the winter and cool in the summer can trap CO-polluted air in a home year-round.

Furnace heat exchangers can crack, vents can become blocked, inadequate air supply

for combustion appliances can cause conditions known as backdrafting or reverse

stacking, which force contaminated air back into the home.

How can I protect myself / family from CO poisoning?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing at least one

carbon monoxide detector per household, near the sleeping area. A second

detector near the homes heat source provides extra protection. Choose an Underwriters

Laboratories (UL) listed detector that sounds an audible alarm.



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