What Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and How Do I Prevent It?

Posted July 05, 2022 by Koorsen Fire & Security


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The CDC states that “CO poisoning is entirely preventable.” Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas usually emitted from the combustion of petroleum.  

Here are a few statistics: 

  • Over 400 people die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning every year 
  • About 50,000 people per year visit the ER from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning  

To prevent this from happening, you must take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

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Carbon monoxide is a killer precisely because the poisoning symptoms seem so innocuous. Symptoms include: 

  • Headache 
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness 
  • Upset stomach 
  • Flu symptoms  

It’s not until they escalate to nausea and vomiting, chest pain, and confusion that symptoms seem serious enough to merit investigation. If you inhale too much carbon monoxide, you may lose consciousness and die. 

Common Causes 

Carbon monoxide is commonly produced by: 

  • Furnaces 
  • Kerosene heaters 
  • Vehicles started up in garages 
  • Stoves 
  • Lanterns 
  • Gas ranges 
  • Portable generators 
  • Burning combustibles like wood  

The problem is that carbon monoxide can build up both in enclosed and partially enclosed spaces. Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and therefore very dangerous. If there’s a toxic level of carbon monoxide in your house while you’re sleeping, you may never wake up. 

CO Detectors 

A carbon monoxide detector is exactly what it says it is. In the detector, a microchip sends an electrical charge to a small detection chamber inside a carbon monoxide sensor. This sensor both detects and measures carbon monoxide concentration in the atmosphere of the room where it is installed.  

The alarm is triggered if the sensor detects high levels of carbon monoxide (from 150-400 parts per million for about an hour). 

You’ll want to test or change the batteries in your detector at least every six months, and if you don’t have a battery-powered detector, you should buy one. 

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning 

A qualified technician should test your home’s HVAC system at least bi-annually for CO levels as part of its regular maintenance schedule. But if you have a gas-burning water heater or stove/oven combo, these should also be tested.  

This is also true for oil or coal-burning appliances. Ensure that vents and flues are free of debris, which can block proper ventilation. 

If you live in a cold climate and need to warm up your car every morning, at least pull it outside the garage while it’s running. Even in a partially enclosed space, the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is real.  

The same applies to generators, pressure washers, lawn mowers, chainsaws, and other gasoline-powered engines. You’ll want to keep them at least 20 feet away from open windows or doors. 

Any appliance or device that operates on the principle of combustion, such as a charcoal grill, lantern, or camping stove, should never be used inside. 

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 or your doctor right away. If you know the symptoms and stay smart, you can avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. 

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Topics: Fire Protection, Fire Safety

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Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is believed to be reliable, but Koorsen Fire & Security assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this article. It does not constitute professional advice. The user of this article or the product(s) is responsible for verifying the information's accuracy from all available sources, including the product manufacturer. The authority having jurisdiction should be contacted for code interpretations.