Carbon monoxide is a molecule. It’s often referred to as CO. It is an odorless gas, without color, and a byproduct of combustion. Combustion is the reaction of a fuel source (gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal, etc.) with heat and oxygen to produce energy, such as in your fireplace, your furnace, or your car’s engine.
CO is formed as a byproduct of burning organic compounds.
Exposure to CO poisoning occurs in private homes, which can lead to severe health consequences. When it comes to power outages, CO poisoning is especially common, because of the use of gasoline powered portable generators to provide electricity and indoor use of charcoal briquettes for cooking and heating. The exhaust from gasoline-powered boats contains harmful gases like carbon monoxide that have the potential to make people sick.
Many deaths from CO toxicity result from fires. But stoves, portable heaters, and automobile exhaust are responsible for approximately one third of all such deaths. Suicide and car exhaust systems are often associated with these. The sources of CO are naturally occurring in cigarette smoke and improperly vented gas water heaters, kerosene space heaters, charcoal grills, hibachis, and Sterno stoves.
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. When you’ve got CO in the air, it can be dangerous. CO in the air can make you pass out, or kill you. If someone is sleeping or drunk they can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before they have any symptoms.
Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning. Infants, the elderly, people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or breathing problems are at risk for getting sick from CO. More than 400 Americans die every year from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.
It’s a good idea to have your heating system serviced yearly.
Due to the odorless, colorless, tasteless nature of carbon monoxide, it can impact without warning.
Here are some suggestions for reducing your risk:
1. A good idea for your home is to invest in a fixed or handheld carbon monoxide detector. If you’re lucky enough to have one already, it’s a good idea to check it as often as a smoke detector.
2. Keep the oven or stove with the burners properly vented. Purchase appliances that vent to the outside.
3. Before every winter, check the condition of your heating and cooling appliances and make sure they are working properly.
4. Use your products in the ways that they were designed to be used and always read the label. For example, do not use an indoor heater to heat a space that’s already too. Do not use portable camping stoves in enclosed spaces. An enclosed space is not the place to run a generator.
5. Avoid running your car inside your garage, even with the garage door open, it is dangerous.
6. If you have a fireplace, keep it in good repair. Keep the chimney clean, check the flue and vent.
7. Staying somewhere? It’s always worthwhile to make sure the place is safe and secure. Airbnb now encourages hosts to install carbon monoxide detectors. Look for properties that have carbon monoxide detectors installed when browsing listings.