Take precautions against "silent killer"
By Bonnie Law
The Arizona Republic
December 30, 2000

Carbon monoxide is deadly.

Called the "silent killer," carbon monoxide (CO) is invisible, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating. It's fatal even in small amounts.

CO poisoning is the most lethal of all accidental poisonings in the United States, claiming more than 2,000 lives annually.

It kills by suffocation, replacing oxygen in the bloodstream.

Symptoms include flulike or seasickness nausea, headache, dizziness, fatigue, lack of coordination, and drowsiness.

Where does carbon monoxide come from? CO is a byproduct of the fuel-burning process, caused by malfunctions of fossil-fuel-burning furnaces, kitchen stoves, water heaters, cars, wood stoves, fireplaces, space and portable heaters.

The tighter the house, the greater the chance of CO buildup.

Even all-electric dwellings can have CO dangers if there's an attached garage, a wood-burning fireplace or another source of combustion, such as a lighted kerosene lantern.

Also, when appliances lack enough air to operate efficiently, carbon monoxide escapes into living areas instead of leaving the house through a chimney or venting system.

Proper venting is a must. Safety experts recommend leaving a window cracked when doing a lot of baking or cooking.

CO safety expert Bob Wheatley of First Alert says that ovens are not vented to the outside of the house. So when a gas oven is used, byproducts of combustion are vented directly into the room. This is one reason, Wheatley warns, that you never should use a gas oven or stove to heat your house.

Another safety precaution is never to run your automobile engine inside the garage without the garage door open.

Safety experts also recommend getting annual inspections of appliances and flue systems to prevent malfunctions that can produce CO.

As a further precaution, use a carbon-monoxide alarm. The unit sounds an alarm when the concentration of CO in the air corresponds to a 10 percent carboxyhemoglobin level in the blood. Carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) occurs when carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the blood. The more CO that accumulates in the blood, the sicker people get. Ten percent COHb is at the low end of CO poisoning. When the alarm sounds at this level, people may not even feel sick.

If your CO detector sounds, here's what you should do:

  • Have everyone leave the building immediately.

  • Leave the doors open when you leave.

  • Use a neighbor's phone to report the alarm to the fire department.

Before purchasing a CO detector, make sure it has an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) sticker on it. Follow instructions for installation and maintenance.

According to industry estimates, even though CO alarms have been available since 1993 they are found in only 27 percent of U.S. homes -- a stark contrast to smoke alarms, which are in 94 to 95percent of homes. There are also combination smoke-fire-carbon-monoxide detectors on the market.

The March 4, 1998, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that at least half of CO deaths could have been prevented by using home-safety devices.

CO devices, including First Alert and Kidde brands, are available at hardware, home center and mass merchandise stores nationally. Prices start around $30.

For more information, call First Alert at 1-800-323-9005 or Kidde at 1-(919)-563-5911 or visit http://www.firstalert.com or http://www.kidde.com.


    Copyright 2000, The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. This article graciously provided courtesy of The Arizona Republic.