Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Most people automatically reach for a generator, candle, or fireplace when the electricity goes out. All of which can result in carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning if not used properly.
Due to a broken gas line or some unforeseen circumstance, it occasionally occurs even while the electricity is on. Additionally, you can encounter carbon monoxide in less expected locations like on the ocean, when driving, etc.
In this article, we will be review how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, specifically. Also check out our article that covers the 411 on Carbon Monoxide, covering the threat this gas poses to you and your loved ones.
Where Can Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Occur?
When carbon monoxide levels in your bloodstream rise, carbon monoxide poisoning happens. Your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide when there is too much CO in the air. Severe tissue damage or even death can occur and a short time.
When gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal, or other fuels are burned, the byproduct they produce is carbon monoxide, an odorless, tasteless gas. Appliances and motors that aren't properly vented, especially in a sealed or enclosed room, can build up lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.
If you suspect carbon monoxide, leave the space and call 911 to alert the local authorities. It is recommended that every home has a carbon monoxide alarm, especially those that have gas appliances, or a wood burning stove or fireplace.
~Your home consists of many appliances, machines, and devices that may leak carbon monoxide, making your entire household susceptible to CO poisoning.
~If your house runs on gas, you are more likely to encounter a leak that can lead to CO poisoning. Your range stove, water heater, furnace, fireplace, grills, generators, power tools, and more can all generate CO, that when built up in a small space can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
~On a Ship / On the Water Behind the Boat
~When a boat is operated at a high bow angle, is poorly or severely laden, or has an opening that pulls in exhaust smoke, back drafting can cause CO to build up inside the cabin, cockpit, and bridge. This build up in the small places on a ship can cause severe CO poisoning or even death.
~Some larger boats, such as houseboats, have generators that exhaust toward the back of the vessel. People on the rear swim deck or water platform are exposed to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. On these larger vessels, carbon monoxide can accumulate close to the water platform above the water. CO that accumulates in the area below the stern deck, on the swim deck, or elsewhere can be fatal in seconds.
~Carbon monoxide can accumulate in a boat's cabin, cockpit, bridge, aft deck, or open area behind the outboard engines when moving slowly or idling in the water. Avid recreational water sport enthusiast has probably had a mild case at one point or the other. Have you ever spent the day wake boarding, water skiing, or tubed behind a boat all day, only to come home with a headache and being overly tired? Maybe you choked it up to being in the sun all day? In some of these cases you have likely had to the beginnings of carbon monoxide poisoning.
~Carbon Monoxide can build up inside the cab of your car. If there is even a small tear in your exhaust system, the tear could cause carbon monoxide to build up in the cab of your vehicle, leading to CO poisoning.
~Another leading cause of CO poisoning is the use of an engine in a closed space. Don’t ever run your vehicle in a closed garage or shed. If you need to run your vehicle while working on it make sure the doors and windows are open to allow for proper ventilation and air flow.
~On a Plane
~Pilots may not bring up carbon monoxide poisoning on your in-flight safety instruction, as it is a rare instance on a plane, but it is not totally out of the realm of possibility. The risk for CO poisoning on a plane is at its greatest during the colder months when the inflight heaters are turned on. Like a car, a slight tear in the exhaust system can funnel the CO right into the cockpit and cabin, endangering the pilots, crew, and passengers.
~Avoiding exposure offers the best defense against carbon monoxide poisoning. Operators and pilots of aircraft are responsible for maintaining the heating/ventilation systems and exhaust manifolds of their craft in compliance with manufacturer and Federal Aviation Administration requirements.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning is entirely avoidable. Learn the signs and causes of CO poisoning can save your family and loved ones. The risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning rises considerable during storm season and winter when the power goes out and home heating systems are left on for long periods.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges communities and families to work together to safeguard kids from carbon monoxide poisoning, particularly during emergencies or natural disasters.
Therefore, taking cognitive steps to keep your home safe and free from CO poisoning will go a long way to ensure safety in and around your home. Here are a few tips or guidelines to help you on this journey.
~1. Proper Maintenance
~It all starts with proper maintenance of any appliances that have the potential to leak carbon monoxide. Make sure your water heaters, furnaces, gas stoves, fireplaces, and more have routine maintenance. This maintenance will ensure that any potential leaks or faulty gaskets will be found, replaced, and remedied. As things age, they become more susceptible cracks, leaks, and other wear & tear. Some utility companies will perform safety checks for your appliances as a free service to ensure there are no leaks. Call your gas company to inquire about this service.
~2. Early Detection
~As with most prevention techniques, early detection is an excellent way to avoid fatal carbon monoxide poisoning. Early detection is possible when you have a system that helps you check for anomalies. Thankfully, such devices are readily available today. You can get carbon monoxide detectors at your local hardware store. They work like smoke detectors. They even sell hybrids that will detect either smoke and/or CO.
~To safeguard your home from carbon monoxide poisoning it is recommended to have at least one carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home. Many are not combo smoke/CO detector units.
~If you are a grease monkey, having on in your garage or shed would also be beneficial. They even sell low level carbon monoxide detectors that can be placed in cars and will trigger at levels as low as 9ppm. This device will guarantee that you discover any dangerous levels as soon as possible. Check and/or replace the batteries in your CO detector every six months. It is recommended to replace your carbon monoxide detector every 5 years. Call 911 or a medical expert immediately if you think you are suffering from CO poisoning.
~Ensure you are prepared to reduce CO poisoning by having flashlights and batteries available and in good working condition for when you need a light source amidst a power outage.
~3. Do Not Use a Generator Inside Your Home
~When using generators and other fuel-powered machinery, abide by the manufacturer's instructions. Don’t run your generator indoors, including in a closed garage. CO is produced as an off burn of gas generators and can build up in your home or garage quickly.
~When your electricity goes out or you need the generator or other fuel-powered machinery to complete a project, make sure to use it outside and positioned away from any open windows or doors, at least 20 feet away from your home is recommended.
~4. Do Not Run a Car inside a Closed Garage
~Well, the title for this one pretty much covers it. The exhaust from a car is made up of carbon monoxide, so running it in a closed garage can quickly lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. If you need to run your car while inside the garage, make sure all possible windows and doors to the outside are open, while also making sure the door to the inside of your house is shut and properly sealed.
~5. Keep Your Fireplace and Vents in Good Condition
~Whether wood or gas powered, a fireplace emits levels of carbon monoxide from the flames. Maintaining clean vents and flues will ensure they stay open for proper ventilation when a fire is burning. Always check that the ventilation lines are free and clear of debris and soot. With open flues and proper ventilation you shouldn’t have any problems, but if you do your CO detector should pick it up in time for you to call for help.
~6. Use Gas Appliances Properly
~Some homes run on natural gas for heating, cooking, and even your clothes dryer. Using these appliances properly is imperative. When using a range stove, make sure all knobs are turned off and no slow leaks are happening even though the pilot lights may be out. Having a skilled expert service your heating system, water heater, and other gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances once a year will ensure no pipe leaks occur.
~7. Keep Fuel Burning Engines and Appliances Properly Vented & Maintained
~Use all fuel-burning engines and similar appliances at least 20 feet away from any window, door, or vent to the inside of your home. This includes gas or wood powered grills, running your car, generators, or even a fire pit. The smoke and burn off from the gas power or fire can cause a build up of CO in your home if too close to openings to your house.
~8. Vent any Room when Working with Solvents
~When working with solvents in a confined space, exercise caution. When inhaled, the solvent methylene chloride, frequently present in paint and varnish removers, can break down and metabolize into carbon monoxide.
~Methylene chloride toxicity can result from exposure to the chemical. Use these solvents outside or in well-ventilated places when working with solvents at home. Read the directions thoroughly, then heed the warnings on the label regarding safety.
~9. Do not Water Ski, Wake Board, or Swim Too Close Behind a Running Boat
~You should swim, ski, and play away from the regions where engines release their emissions. Keep a close eye on kids playing on the water platforms or back swim decks. This is even more evident for boats with outboard engines where the motor itself is located aft. Wake boarders, Water skiers, and tubers are especially susceptible as they generally perform their activity from the back of the boat where the engines live.
~If anyone starts to complain about having a headache, make sure to get them quickly away from the engines and any smoke emissions. If the affected are small children, it may even be in their best interest to see a doctor as their little bodies can’t take as much CO as an adult.
~10. Know the Symptoms
~By becoming aware of the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning, knowing how to spot it, and how to avoid it; you can protect your family and loved ones. Headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest discomfort, and disorientation are the most typical signs of CO poisoning. Inhaling too much CO can result in death, especially if not removed from the place of exposure.
~If you are in the vicinity of something you know emits carbon monoxide, it is recommended to not become too intoxicated. When partying on a boat or near a bonfire, carbon monoxide is even more likely to cause excessive levels of poisoning, killing someone if they doze off too close to the engines or smoke.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be severe and lead to permanent brain damage or even death when not taken seriously. People are at the most risk during winter or a natural disaster, when people aren’t thinking properly. Installing a CO detector in your home, garage, and car will provide an added layer of security and alertness, protecting you and your loved ones.