According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year in the United States hundreds of people are killed as a result of non-fire related Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning associated with consumer products. It is the most common type of fatal poisoning in the United States. In addition, tens of thousands more will be treated in emergency departments as a result of accidental CO poisoning.
CO is a commercially important chemical that is formed in many chemical reactions. However it is also deadly and is often referred to as the “silent killer.” It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, highly toxic gas produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels - gas, oil, coal, wood and other petroleum products used in boilers, engines, oil burners, gas fires, water heaters, solid fuel appliances and open fires. CO is also formed as a result of the decomposition of many organic materials.
Dangerous levels of CO can accumulate when, as a result of poor installation, poor maintenance, failure or damage to an appliance in service, the fuel is not burned properly, or when rooms are poorly ventilated and the Carbon Monoxide is unable to escape.
“Carbon Monoxide can produce a wide range of physiological effects on people exposed to concentrations as low as 50 parts per million,” said Dr. Kausik Kar, M.D., Medical Director of The Hyperbaric Unit at Westchester Medical Center. “Symptoms may range from mild headaches and dizziness to more serious symptoms including nausea, lethargy and even convulsions. Unfortunately many times the more mild symptoms are often attributed to illnesses such as the flu or food poisoning and left untreated, resulting in the more serious complications and even death. If you believe you have a CO leak in your home or that you are suffering from the effects of CO poisoning, leave your home immediately and call 911.”
In addition people with heart or respiratory problems as well as infants, small children, unborn children and their expectant mothers are at an increased risk for suffering from the effects of CO poisoning at a much quicker rate than others in the household and they may be the first to show symptoms.
While a CO detector may help to alert you to the presence of elevated CO levels in your home it is just as important to make sure that plumbing, heating and other gas powered equipment in your home is properly maintained and serviced regularly by a licensed professional. CO detectors are available locally in many different stores and can be installed in just a few minutes using only small hand tools.