Carbon Monoxide Is a Tricky, Dangerous Gas: Here’s Why



On February 2, Salem, Oregon, woke up to the tragic news of a father and daughter who died due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The compound didn’t spare their pets either.

Unfortunately, this case is just one of the hundreds that the United States experiences each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 50,000 end up in the emergency departments while at least 450 eventually die.

What makes carbon monoxide poisoning dangerous, and how does it affect the body? What can Americans do to significantly minimize the risk?

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

What is carbon monoxide, and how is it different from carbon dioxide? How does it end up inside homes? Both carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are by-products of combustion or the process of burning fuel. You do that when you turn on a heater, burn wood in a traditional fireplace, or turn on the engine.

Fossil fuels contain both carbon and hydrogen; and during combustion, they combine with oxygen. In other words, oxidation occurs. One of the end products is then carbon dioxide, which has two oxygen molecules.

The problem happens when this process becomes incomplete or inefficient. The improper oxidation leads to the formation of carbon monoxide, which has only one oxygen molecule.

While both are colorless, tasteless, and odorless, carbon monoxide is toxic. Worse, because it is gas, it is lighter than air and can easily seep into the homes, even into cracks. Because of its characteristics, warm-blooded animals, from pets to humans, will never know about it unless the property has a well-functioning detector.

The Harmful Effects of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

In small to moderate amounts, the symptoms can range from difficulty in breathing to chest pain, nausea, palpitations, muscle pain, and changes in vision and hearing.

One of the biggest threats of carbon monoxide is its ability to displace oxygen in the body. It particularly hits systems that use a lot of oxygen, such as the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system.

When the effects are severe, carbon monoxide poisoning can result in hypoxia, where the body doesn’t receive enough oxygen. In turn, the cells eventually die. You will suffer organ damage or failure, which may be irreparable.

Further, when you inhale large amounts of it, it can make you lose consciousness and incapacitated. This only aggravates your situation as you no longer have any means to ask for help.

Although some can survive carbon monoxide poisoning, the harmful effects can be long-term. According to the CDC, people who had inhaled moderate amounts are already at an increased risk of developing heart disease. It also revealed that it may lead to permanent damage to the brain.

How to Reduce the Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

As long as you’re exposed to fossil fuels or appliances that use them, you need to learn how to minimize your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Fortunately, you have many options:

1. Get a Professional to Check Your Heaters and Furnaces

These appliances need a thorough inspection at least once a year, especially during the winter months when you use them more often. This is especially true in colder areas like Utah.

Find a furnace service in any major city where they are likely to operate. Some may be available 24/7 or provide emergency repair or assistance.

2. Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector

A carbon monoxide detector is a nifty device that sounds an alarm when it determines higher-than-acceptable levels of toxic gas inside the house. While carbon monoxide can trigger all carbon detectors, their mechanism of identifying the gas may vary.

For example, a detector may be equipped with a metal oxide. The device’s silica chip can determine its presence, which then lowers electrical resistance. This change then triggers the alarm.

You can install a carbon detector, but the height matters. Because it is lighter than air, it should be higher up the wall, preferably five feet from the ground. You may also need to replace the device every five to seven years.

3. Don’t Purchase Counterfeit or Low-Quality Products

Appliances like heaters can be expensive, so some may choose to buy counterfeit or opt for the cheapest one, which may have poor quality. These products may have never been tested for reliability and safety.

The CDC strongly recommends investing only in items that have gone through a national testing agency like United Laboratories (UL). You will know that the item has been certified when you can see the agency’s trademark.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a life-threatening health problem that you can avoid when you take practical precautions. These three tips will already help save people’s and animal’s lives.