Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas that can be very dangerous and even fatal to humans. Our senses are unable to recognize it. Therefore a great number of people don’t even realize that they are being exposed to carbon monoxide, so the chance of poisoning is quite high.
In this post, we’ll explain what carbon monoxide is, why it is dangerous, where does carbon monoxide comes from and what are the ways to keep your family and yourself safe from it.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a highly toxic, colorless, and odorless gas that consists of carbon and oxygen. Basically, CO originates from the incomplete combustion of coal, oil, wood, natural gas, kerosene, and other fuels that contain carbon. Long-term exposure to CO can lead to acute diseases and even death.
Why Is Carbon Monoxide Harmful?
After inhaling carbon monoxide, it enters the bloodstream. CO ties to hemoglobin (the molecule of red blood cells responsible for distributing oxygen throughout the body) 200 times faster than oxygen does. This can decrease the body’s ability to absorb oxygen and lead to tissue damage and finally death.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 20,000+ patients end up in hospitals because of exposure to carbon monoxide. It’s important to note that although carbon monoxide affects everyone, particular groups such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those suffering from heart or respiratory issues can suffer more serious effects due to CO poisoning. In the US only more than 400 people die annually from carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires.
What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
People who were exposed to carbon monoxide for longer periods might notice symptoms similar to cold or flu. In case more than one person from the same building experiences the same issues, there’s a great possibility of CO poisoning going on.
We should note that symptoms of CO poisoning disappear after the person leaves the space of CO leak. As you might expect, longer exposure to CO leads to more serious symptoms. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these are the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Problems with coordination and vision
- Fatigue in people with no health issues
- Chest pain in people that have heart-related problems
- Other symptoms common to flu and cold
At higher concentrations, carbon monoxide poisoning can make you pass out and can even be lethal. In case you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms the most important step is to exit the building as soon as possible and get some fresh air.
The next step would be to contact the Poison Helpline at 1-800-222-1222. They will advise you whether you need to consult a doctor. We suggest you also inform the local fire department or gas company so they can come to find the leak and repair it.
Keep in mind that, as the EPA states, there’s a possibility of inhaling harmful concentrations of carbon monoxide with none of the symptoms manifesting. Inhaling small amounts of CO during a longer period of time can impact health negatively and induce even neurological issues such as motor and sensory disorders.
What Are the Sources of Carbon Monoxide in Your Home?
CO is generated due to the incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels. Another possible monoxide leak may hide in an attached garage. We should note that similar to other pollutants, issues with carbon monoxide happen more often during the cold winter months. Below you’ll find a list of the most common sources of carbon monoxide:
- Gas stoves and kitchen ranges: Cooking on gas stoves might be producing CO in your home, particularly if the kitchen is poorly vented. Make sure that your stove and kitchen range is always clean and working properly.
- Grills: Remember that using a grill in enclosed spaces such as garages tends to be dangerous since carbon monoxide released while burning the fuel can accumulate in there and reach poisonous levels.
- Fireplaces: Although using your fireplace for heating during cold months is very nice and cozy, the smoke from the burning wood might remain in your home. Unfortunately, bad smells aren’t the only problem here, since high amounts of smoke imply higher levels of CO and other harmful particulate matter present in your home. To prevent this from happening, make sure the flue is open every time you use a fireplace.
- Air-conditioners, space heaters, water heaters, laundry dryers: All of the mentioned devices can also be found in carbon-fueled versions, which might release carbon monoxide into the air. If this is the case with your appliances, make sure that ventilation, inspection, and maintenance are properly done, so that accumulation of carbon dioxide can be prevented.
- Tobacco smoke: Cigarettes are another possible source of carbon monoxide. Unfortunately, CO emitted while smoking tobacco affects both smokers and non-smokers since smokers directly inhale small amounts of carbon monoxide coming from burning tobacco inside the cigarette. Smoking also allows carbon monoxide levels to rise, particularly in a closed room, putting both smokers and non-smokers at risk.
- Portable generators: Portable generators that are gas-fueled tend to be particularly problematic when it comes to carbon monoxide since they emit huge concentrations while working. Keep in mind that you should never use a portable generator inside. Take it outside instead, make sure to stay at least 25 feet from it, and locate it downwind from all doors and windows.
- Cars, motorcycles, and other vehicles: The majority of vehicles are still gasoline-powered. During the winter months, most people prefer to leave their car working for a few minutes before driving. We must underline that this can be very harmful since high concentrations of carbon monoxide can accumulate in your garage and even in particular rooms of your home. In case you have a detached garage, keep in mind that the door should be kept open while the engine is on. It’s also important to check your exhaust system annually to make sure that there are no CO leaks inside your vehicle.
What Are the Sources of Carbon Monoxide in Your Apartment?
In case you live in an apartment in a residential building, you should also check the places listed in the previous section first. However, even if you already handled all of the potential carbon monoxide sources in your apartment, there’s still a concern related to other tenants and potential CO leaks in their apartments. Here’s a list of potential carbon monoxide sources in your building:
- Other tenants: Other people living in your building might be using open fires, especially for heating during the winter. This may pose a risk for your health since high concentrations of carbon monoxide may get into your room through the ventilation system.
- Space heaters and lanterns: Both of these burn fuel in order to work, so they shouldn’t be used indoors under any circumstances. Lanterns and space heaters can potentially emit excessive concentrations of carbon monoxide, which can easily reach poisonous levels if used in a closed room.
- Ventilation: Improving the ventilation in your apartment might not be an easy task in case you’re sharing one or more walls with your neighbors. The situation may be even trickier if there aren’t enough windows and doors. Make sure to ventilate properly each time you cook food or do anything that might release carbon monoxide.
How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Home?
As we said at the start of this article, carbon monoxide can’t be seen or smelled, but luckily there are numerous carbon monoxide detectors available on the market nowadays. CO detectors are either battery-operated or mains powered with a battery backup. You should check your battery every six months, and replace it if needed.
Our suggestion is to purchase a detector that has a built-in digital readout. The best place to install a carbon monoxide detector would be in the hallways, somewhere near your bedroom, so it can wake you up in case it alarms while you’re asleep.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that every home should have a carbon monoxide detector installed. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide detector in each story of your home. In case you live in a rented space, you can ask your landlord to buy and install a CO detector. This especially goes for all of you living in states which legally require every house or apartment to be equipped with one. We should also note that buying a combination of CO detector and smoke alarm might be a great solution.
This concludes our pretty comprehensive post on where carbon monoxide comes from. CO may be very harmful and even lead to death. Luckily, CO detectors are pretty affordable today and getting one can be extremely helpful when controlling carbon monoxide concentrations. Follow the tips given above to prevent the accumulation of CO.
We hope you like the article and find it useful. As always, if you still have any questions, or want more detail on a specific point, feel free to write a comment below. We’ll be glad to provide you with an answer in a short manner.