The Invisible Killer Nearly three hundred people in the United States alone, die from the poisonous gas called carbon monoxide every year. Several thousand others go to hospital emergency rooms for treatment of this serious adverse dormant gas every year as well (CSPC 466). Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, tasteless, odorless, latent gas produced by the incomplete burning of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels (CPSC 464). Appliances fueled with natural gas, coal, liquefied petroleum oil, kerosene, or wood may produce carbon monoxide.
Cigarette smoke can also contain high levels of carbon monoxide, in addition to over two hundred other known poisons. Many of the people that die from carbon monoxide poisoning die from burning charcoal inside their homes, garages, and recreational vehicles. Others dies form carbon monoxide produced by cars left running in garages attached to their houses (Jain, 17). Americans spend most of their lives indoors, where hazardous air pollutants can exist at higher levels than outdoors (Jain, 12). Some people are more at risk than others are when exposed to carbon monoxide. Both children and elderly have a higher risk for adverse health effects.
Carbon monoxide can also effect unborn babies, infants, pregnant women, and those with anemia or any history of respiratory or heart disease (CSPC 466). Even low levels of CO can cause fatigue and create chest pains in people with chronic heart disease. Higher levels of carbon monoxide in the air can cause flu like symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, nausea, confusion, and weakness in even healthy people. At extremely high levels carbon monoxide will cause loss of consciousness, and will eventually lead to death (CSPC 464). Many people mistake CO poisoning symptoms with the flu symptoms and are sometimes misdiagnosed by physicians, which can tragically result in mis fortunate deaths. Large amounts of carbon monoxide can kill in minutes Obviously, the more carbon monoxide in the air and the longer the exposure, the greater the danger.
The poisoning can be reversed however if caught in time. Even with recovery from carbon monoxide poisoning, severe poisoning can result in permanent damage to parts of the body that require a larger than usual supply of oxygen such as the heart and the brain (CSPC, 466). This is due to the fact that exposure to carbon monoxide reduces the blood s ability to carry oxygen. There are also significant reproductive risks involved with carbon monoxide. Acute carbon monoxide exposures that were non-lethal to the mothers can be associated with fetal loss (Jain, 33).
If any of the symptoms are experienced, it is advisable to get fresh air immediately. Open windows and doors and turn on fans and exhaust systems to ventilate the air. Turn off any combustion appliances-appliances that burn fuels-and leave the house (CSPC, 464). It is also advisable to call the fire department and report the symptoms to a doctor. Remove anyone overcome by the gas immediately and give the person artificial respiration if needed. There are many things that can be done to prevent carbon monoxide disasters.
The first thing that can be done is to maintain appliances in good working order and have them checked if any possibility of a carbon monoxide leak is suspected. Also, it is recommended, and in many areas required, that a carbon monoxide detector be installed in the home. One should be installed in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home (CSPC, 466). Some obvious precautions include never leaving a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open. Also do not operate an un vented fuel-burning appliance indoors. Although some of these recommendations may seem like common sense when they are evaluated on paper, they are often times overlooked by average people with common sense and result in tragic death and injury..