Of all the non-fire-related carbon monoxide (CO) deaths, estimates are that 80% relate to gas-fuelled appliances. In fact, half of all fatal poisonings in the US are attributed to carbon monoxide. Chronic exposure to relatively low levels will lessen your life span. The Silent Killer — Colourless and odourless, carbon monoxide is attributed to thousands and thousands of people being either killed or injured each year.
What is Carbon Monoxide? — Like radon gas, carbon monoxide is a colourless and odourless too. CO is a non-irritating poisonous gas.
Where does Carbon Monoxide come from? — Whenever fossil fuels are burnt carbon monoxide is produced. For example, if you burn gasoline, natural gas, propane, kerosene, charcoal, coal or wood without sufficient air carbon monoxide is produced. Likely sources in the home can include the gas appliances such as a furnace, hot water heater, fireplace and stove. Some other sources include gasoline engines, charcoal grills, and kerosene heaters. Although poorly vented appliances contribute to carbon monoxide in a home other areas include cracked heat exchangers in gas furnaces for example. Homes that are more air tight through energy conservation measures may cause a vacuum in effect in the home causes back drafting or negative pressure in vented gas appliances. Wood fireplaces generally are more dangerous than forced air furnaces because wood smoke that spills into the room always contains carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is also a major component of cigarette smoke.
At what level is Carbon Monoxide dangerous? — It only takes a few minutes for a person to collapse and die from carbon monoxide if exposed to large doses. It can also cause severe heart and brain damage. Some symptoms the body can experience include headaches, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, dimmed vision, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Flu and viruses are often blamed for the effects of this carbon monoxide gas. Infants, seniors and those with cardiovascular disease, anaemia, lung disease and an increased metabolic rate are at greater risk. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke is a major cause of coronary artery disease. Pre-birth exposure has been associated with learning and memory defects.
Liquid fuelled (kerosene) stoves, coal stoves, and wood stoves are very dangerous as carbon monoxide is in their combustion products. Gas appliances are less dangerous as long as there exists sufficient outside air and for venting of combustible products. Open windows and air leaks will often make this less of a concern, however, in homes where construction is more airtight and windows are closed carbon monoxide becomes a threat.
What can you do? — The use of carbon monoxide detectors in a home will greatly reduce the number of deaths and injuries. Professionals can also do inexpensive testing for this silent killer.