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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention

10/16/2013 (Permalink)

I recently had a conversation with a client about Carbon Monoxide dangers. I gave her our SERVPRO monthly newsletter with an article called "Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer" and we discussed how many of the tips we did not know. So I decided to do a little research and find out what else I did not know about carbon monoxide (CO) to share with all of you.

Let me start by telling you that I have had CO poisoning previously, and it is not fun. I was working at another company, and I was outside in a tent all day. It was November and it was cold. While the tent had "walls", they were rolled up most of the day to allow people to freely come in and out. We had two large portable kerosene heaters to make the space a little more comfortable. My fingers were numb while I was trying to type and my teeth were chattering (I am always cold anyway, so this was torture!) I moved the heaters closer to my desk and pointed them both straight at me.

I am not sure how much time passed, but I remember feeling dizzy and light-headed. I stood up and told my manager that I felt sick. I was nauseated and I could feel a headache coming on. It was not unlike a bad sinus headache. I did not know enough about CO to realize that was causing my symptoms. CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms often mimic other illnesses. Anyway, it took my manager and another co-worker to help me outside. In just a matter of minutes, I could not walk or talk. They helped me to a car far from the tent and told me to rest inside with the heat on. That is the last I remember. I woke up hours later with an enormous bump on my forehead. We guessed that I passed out inside the car and banged my head on the dashboard. It was a terrifying experience.

Later, I discussed it with my doctor, and he told me that it was probably CO poisoning. My co-workers were right to remove me from the tent and get me fresh air, but they probably should have taken me to the emergency room. I had a bad headache the day after the incident, but otherwise I was okay. If I was not a healthy adult, the outcome may have been very different. I was fortunate.

But here's where you can benefit from my bad experience: don't make these mistakes! Just because you are outside or the windows are open or the garage door is lifted, does not mean you are safe. Please heed the following information to protect you and your family from this silent killer!

You can't see or smell carbon monoxide, but at high levels, it can kill a person in minutes. Often called the silent killer, carbon monoxide, or CO, is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels, like gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, and propane burn incompletely.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, each year, more than 500 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning. It is estimated that another 20,000 visit the emergency room. All people and animals are at risk for CO poisoning, with some groups including unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems, are more susceptible to its effects. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.

Protect yourself by reviewing the following tips, provided by the United States Fire Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

?Have fuel-burning appliances, like oil and gas furnaces, gas or kerosene heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves, inspected by a trained professional every year. If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator's cooling unit have an expert service it.

* When purchasing gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as the American Gas Association or Underwriters' Laboratories.

* Open the damper for proper ventilation before using a fireplace. Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by snow and other debris. So can dryer vents!

* Never use your own stovetop to heat your home. Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented. All gas appliances must be vented. Make sure all fuel-burning vented equipment is vented to the outside. Keep the venting for exhaust clear and unblocked. Never patch a vent pipe with tape or gum. Horizontal vent pipes to fuel appliances should not be perfectly level. Indoor vent pipes should go up slightly as they go toward outdoors. This helps prevent CO or other gases from leaking if the joints or pipes aren't fitted tightly.

* If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Never run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open! Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not blocked with snow, ice or other materials. Have a mechanic check the exhaust system of your car every year.

* If you drive a vehicle with a tailgate (like an SUV), when you open the tailgate, you also need to open vents or windows to make sure air is moving through your car. If only the tailgate is open, CO from the exhaust will be pulled into the car.

* Only use barbecue grills outside, away from all doors, windows, vents and other building openings. Some grills can produce CO gas. Never use grills inside the home or the garage, even if the doors are open. Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal - red, gray, black or white- gives off CO.

* Use portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from all doors, windows, vents and other building openings to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the home.

* Probably the most important thing you can do is to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home, particularly in your bedroom.  People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.  Place the detector 5 feet above the floor and away from fireplaces or furnaces.

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