At lower levels of exposure, carbon monoxide may cause numerous health problems. Symptoms of CO poisoning may be:
- Slight headache and dizziness
- Drowsiness and feeling of Euphoria
- Confusion and irritability
Why is it so dangerous?
The great danger of carbon monoxide is its attraction to hemoglobin in the bloodstream, which normally carries life-giving oxygen to cells and tissues. As even small amounts are breathed in, carbon monoxide quickly bonds with hemoglobin in the blood, displacing the oxygen that organs need to function. When CO is present in the air, it rapidly accumulates in the blood, forming a toxic compound known as carboxy hemoglobin (COHb).
Where does it come from?
Carbon monoxide is a common by-product of combustion, present whenever fossil fuels are burned. It is produced by malfunctioning, unvented gas or oil home appliances such as furnaces, clothes dryers, ranges, ovens, water heaters, space heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills and wood burning stoves. Automobile exhaust also contains high levels of carbon monoxide that can seep into a home if a car is left running in an attached garage. All of these sources can contribute to a CO problem in the home.
Usually, carbon monoxide is vented safely to the outside. However, insulation meant to keep indoor air warm during the winter or cool in the summer can help trap CO-polluted air in the home. Furnace heat exchangers can crack; vents and chimneys may reverse direction causing a downdraft, which traps combustion gases in the home.
How can I protect my family?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near the sleeping area. Choose an Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) listed alarm that sounds an audible warning. Look for the UL logo on the package.
In addition to installing carbon monoxide alarms as a first line of defense, residents should have a qualified professional check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, venting and chimney systems at least once a year or as recommended by the manufacturer.
Per Illinois Law –
“Every dwelling unit shall be equipped with at least one approved carbon monoxide alarm in an operating condition within 15 feet of every room used for sleeping purposes”.
Typically, the most common drowning victim is a 2-year old male who is last seen in a “safe area,” far from the pools edge. Children are not the only victims of drowning. Adults have also been drowning victims from many factors: fatigue, excessive use of alcohol, diving from unsafe areas and over exertion, to name a few.
Supervision is the key to preventing a child from drowning. Additional protection can be installed around your back yard swimming pool.
Time is crucial
When your smoke detector sounds, you have a minute or two to escape. Develop and practice a home escape plan.
Test your smoke detectors at least once a month. Push the test button or blow smoke into the detector.
Clean your detectors at least once a year. Vacuum out the dust.
Replace the battery every year. Better yet, twice a year – when you change your clocks in the spring and fall.
For minimum protection, install a smoke detector on every level of your home and in each of your bedrooms or sleeping area. Keep your smoke detectors properly maintained. Test at least once a month to make sure they work.
Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials like newspapers.
Make sure the damper is open and check to see that the chimney is drawing the smoke up properly before starting your fire. To check the draw, first open a window a bit for ventilation. Either carefully hold a lighted match up to the flue and make sure the flame is drawn upward or light a small ball of paper in the grate, again making sure that the smoke is drawn up through the chimney. If the chimney doesn’t draw the smoke up and out, have it cleaned and inspected by a certified professional before using it.
Burn paper only when starting a fire and only in small amounts. Be aware that holiday gift wrap often contains chemicals that give off toxic fumes when burned.
Never use chemicals or fuels to start a fire.
Use only dry, seasoned wood or logs in your fireplace. Avoid evergreen branches, which can flare up quickly and throw sparks, or treated wood, which contains harmful chemicals. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
Keep anything that can burn well away from a fireplace.
Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.
Cool hot ashes in water and place them in a tightly sealed metal container outside your house.
Stack firewood outside at least 30 feet from your home.
When buying a wood stove, look for solid construction such as plate steel or cast iron metal. Check for cracks and inspect legs, hinges, and door seals for smooth joints and seams.
When installing your stove, carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Your stove should sit on a code-specified or listed floor protector. The protector should extend 18 inches beyond the stove on all sides to reduce the possibility of the floor catching on fire. Use fire-resistant wall coverings like metal or brick if the stove sits near a wall.
Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions. Check your pipes and chimneys monthly for damage or obstructions and clean them annually.
Use only seasoned wood for fuel, not green wood, artificial logs, or trash. Trash could cause the stove to overheat.
Never use gasoline or other chemicals to start a fire. Gasoline will ignite and explode.
Use coal (or other fuels like pellets) in the stove only if the manufacturer has approved its use. Don’t take the word of the salesman – ask to see the manufacturer’s literature.
Be sure to keep anything that can burn at least three feet from your wood stove.
Never leave a fire unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
Along with a cleaning, have your chimney inspected annually by a certified specialist. Obstructions and cracks can cause chimney and roof fires. In addition, cracks in your chimney lining could allow a fire to escape into the wood frame of your house. If you’ve had a fire in your chimney, it will probably have cracks that need to be repaired.
Place mesh screen spark arresters at the top of your chimney.
Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other combustible debris.
All chimneys and vent pipes should extend at least three feet above the roof.
Remove branches hanging above and around the chimney, flues or vents.
Select heating equipment that has the UL Mark. The UL Mark on a product means that UL technical staff members have tested representative samples of the product for foreseeable safety hazards.
Remember that 3-foot safety zone. Keep things that burn at least 3 feet away from space heaters.
Turn off space heaters when you are not in the room or when you go to sleep.
Supervise children and pets at all times when space heaters are in use. Even the slightest contact with a heating coil or element can cause a severe burn.
If you have an electric space heater, check for frayed insulation, broken wires or overheating. Have all problems repaired by a professional technician before operating.
When buying space heaters, look for devices with automatic shut-off features and heating element guards.
Avoid using extension cords with space heaters. If you must use one, make sure you choose an extension cord of the right wire gauge size and type for your heaters.
Keep the air heater’s power supply cord away from high-traffic areas in your home. You don’t want people walking on or tripping over the cord.
If you have a liquid-fueled space heater, use only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer. Never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel. The wrong fuel could burn hotter than the equipment’s design limits and cause a serious fire.