Carbon monoxide (CO) has been called the "silent killer". CO is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas. Because of this, many people never know that they have been poisoned. It is estimated that 1,500 people are killed each year in North America and many more are injured with tragic disabilities, making CO the leading cause of accidental poisoning in North America.
Carbon Monoxide can Cause Illness or Death
CO is the result of incomplete combustion of a fossil fuel such as natural gas, gasoline, propane and wood. CO replaces the oxygen in the blood, a condition known as carboxhemoglobin (Cohb) saturation. As the level of carbon monoxide rises in the blood, the percentage of COhb gets higher and people get sicker. Just how sick people will get varies from person to person, depending on age, overall health, the concentration of exposure and the length of exposure. The people most at risk are the very young or the elderly. CO poisoning symptoms, commonly confused with the flu, include:
- Ringing in the ears
At higher levels or larger concentrations a person will become unconscious and death may result.
Keeping Natural Air Flow in your Home
New homes today are being built with more energy-saving insulation, doors and windows while older homes are being upgraded with new windows, more insulation, etc. These enerygy-saving renovations may remove the natural air flow that occurs in your home.
When these natural air currents are removed and your home becomes "airtight", your heating appliances may actually re-burn the exhaust gases and produce dangerous levels of CO. Other causes of CO may be:
- Cracked heat exchanger in your furnace
- Cracked chimney or liner
- Furnace room that has been walled in and does not have a fresh supply of oxygen
- An automobile idling in the garage even with the door open
- A fireplace that has not been properly maintained
To protect yourself and your family you can ensure that:
- All fuel burning appliances are inspected, cleaned and installed by qualified repair personnel
- The furnace area has an adequate supply of fresh air
- You never leave your car running in the garage
- You have a few windows open at night just a crack to circulate the fresh air
Not only will this protect you from CO but it is also good for your health. The few cents that it will cost for additional heating, is a small price to pay for your family's safety.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
You can purchase a CO detector from a hardware or department store. There are currently two major types of detectors on the market:
- One type operates on Biomimetic technology which simulates your body's response to CO. This type is usually battery powered.
- The other type of detector operates on electrical current and has a gas sensor that detects CO in the air. This type is usually plugged into a standard 110-volt wall outlet.
When installing a detector, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions on installation and placement to ensure that the device will work properly. Most manufacturers recommend installing the detector in the sleeping area for early detection and, if desired, installing a second detector in the furnace area.
- Landlords are responsible for installing and maintaining CO alarms in their rental units
- Landlords are required to test CO alarms in rental units annually and when the battery is replaced, changes are made to the electric circuit or a change of tenancy occurs.
- It is against the law for tenants to remove the batteries or tamper with CO alarms in any way.
- Test CO alarms every month by pressing the test button.
- Replace batteries every year.
- Replace CO alarms according to manufacturer's instruction
What to do if your Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm goes Off
If you are experiencing symptoms, you should notify emergency services by calling 911.
If your CO detector has gone into alarm and you have no symptoms of CO poisoning, vacate your home and Call the Fire Department.
- Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA)Autumn Watch
- Centre for Disease Control - The Quiet Killer