SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Carbon Monoxide Hazards
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless and
toxic gas, and is often referred to as the “silent killer.” When
inhaled, it inhibits the blood’s capacity to transport oxygen
throughout the body. It can poison the body quickly in high
concentrations, or slowly over long periods of time.
What are symptoms of carbon monoxide
Exposure to CO can cause flu-like symptoms such as
headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning eyes, confusion,
drowsiness and even loss of consciousness. In severe
cases, CO poisoning can cause brain damage and death.
The elderly, children and people with heart or respiratory
conditions may be particularly sensitive to CO.
How is carbon monoxide generated?
Carbon monoxide is
a by-product of incomplete combustion of fuel such as natural
gas, propane, heating oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal,
gasoline or wood. This incomplete combustion can occur
in any device that depends on burning for energy or heat,
such as furnaces, room heaters, fireplaces, hot water
heaters, stoves or grills and any gas powered vehicle or
engine. Automobiles left running in attached garages, gas
barbecues operated inside the house, grills or kerosene
heaters that are not properly vented, or chimneys or vents
that are dirty or plugged may create unsafe levels of CO.
When properly installed, maintained and vented, any CO
produced by these devices will not stay inside the home.
What are some danger signs?
You or other members of your family or at your workplace
have symptoms of CO exposure (see above).
You notice a sharp, penetrating odor or smell of gas when
your furnace or other fuel-burning equipment turns on.
The air is stale or stuffy.
The pilot light of your furnace or other fuel-burning
equipment goes out.
Chalky white powder forms on the chimney/exhaust vent
pipe or soot build-up occurs around the exhaust vent.
How can unsafe levels of carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide detectors monitor airborne concentration
levels (parts per million) of carbon monoxide and
sound an audible alarm when harmful CO levels are present.
Be sure that your detector has been certified to the
American National Standards Institute ANSI, UL Standard
2034 or, if you live in Canada CAN/CGA 6.19 standard.
If you or anyone else in your home or workplace is experiencing
the symptoms of CO poisoning, ensure that
everyone leaves immediately, leaving the door open. Call
your local fire department or 911. If your CO detector
sounds, do NOT assume it to be a false alarm. Open all
doors and windows to ventilate the area. If you cannot find
the problem and the alarm continues, contact the fire
department. If there is a strong smell of natural gas, evacuate
immediately, leaving the door open and contact your
local gas utility. If no symptoms are experienced, reset the
detector and check to see if the alarm activates. If the
detector sounds a second time, call the local fire department
for their assistance. If the detector does not sound a
second time, check for common conditions that may have
caused a CO build-up or contact a qualified heating contractor
to check your fuel-burning equipment.
Where should a carbon monoxide detector
In the home, if only one detector is being installed, it
should be located near the sleeping area. Where sleeping
areas are located in separate parts of the home, a detector
should be provided for each area.
CO detectors should also be placed on each level of a
residence or business in rooms where combustion devices
are located (such as in a room that contains a solid fuelfired
appliance, gas clothes dryer or natural gas furnace),
or adjacent to potential sources of CO. Unlike smoke,
which rises to the ceiling, CO mixes with air. Recognizing
this, a CO detector should be located at knee-height.
Due to the possibility of tampering or damage, it may be
located up to chest height. To work properly, a detector
should not be blocked to normal air flow. If a combination
smoke/carbon monoxide detector is used, it should be located
on the ceiling, to ensure that it will detect smoke effectively.
Please refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for additional
information regarding proper use and maintenance.
To keep safe, please remember:
You have a responsibility to know about the dangers of
carbon monoxide. Your knowledge and actions may save
CO detectors are a good second line of defence, but do
not eliminate the need for regular inspection, maintenance
and safe use of fuel-burning equipment.
For more information, click on the author biography at the top of the page.