Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Imagine that it is the first really cold night of the winter season. You begin to feel a chill in the house so you decide it’s time to turn on the furnace. So you get up out of your chair and adjust the thermometer. After a while you notice that it has not really warmed up much in the house. So you decide to check it again just as soon as you get something for this awful headache that just came on. But, as you get up out of your chair you almost fall over because you are so dizzy. You also begin to feel weak and nauseous. You think that it is just a case of the flu coming on but it could be something much worse. Without even knowing it a silent killer has made it’s way into your home. This killer shows no remorse. It strikes men, women, and children. It does not care what color you are, nor does it care what nationality you are. The killer is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide, or CO as it is also called, is an odorless, colorless, and deadly gas given off when any fuel is incompletely burned by, for example, a furnace or water heater (Marable 97). Unlike a fire where you can immediately see smoke and flames, carbon monoxide poisoning gives no physical evidence of its presence. But, when taught to see and look for the warning signs of carbon monoxide, deaths in the home due to carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented.
Sometimes, in a home the hot water supply is low, or the furnace fails to keep the house warm. A natural reaction in any of these situations would be to turn up the tempeture on both appliances. But, did you know that a low supply of hot water, and a furnace that does not keep a house warm could be a warning sign of a CO problem (”More on CO” 97)? Additionally, by turning up the temperature on both units you just made a bad problem worse. Now each appliance is going to be running longer to try to keep things warmed up. This in turn will allow more deadly gas to be floating around in your home. These are just a couple of the warning signs. Other warning signs include, an unfamiliar burning odor, an increase of condensation on walls or windows near the furnace. A build up of soot, especially on appliances, could be an indicator, as well as fresh rust or stains that are visible on vents and chimneys (”More on CO” 97). One or all these, rarely noticed indicators, could be preludes to a tradgity. Carbon monoxide is responsible for at least 300 accidental and preventable deaths per year in the US (Race 97). The Consumer Product and Safety Commission fact sheet states, “at least 5,000 people are treated annually in hospitals for carbon monoxide poisoning.” Due to the frequent misdiagnosis of the symptoms, this number may be higher (Race 97).
“On August 1, 1996, the Delaware County Health Department (DCHD) received a phone call from the Muncie Fire Department referencing a carbon monoxide problem at a local daycare facility. Fifty-seven children and three staff members from the facility were taken to the hospital for treatment of CO poisoning (Jones 97).”
All of the appliances in this daycare center were serviced by electricity. So the carbon m monoxide came from another unknown source. Interviews were conducted, and it was learned that the daycare center had a contract janitorial service. They had cleaned the facility the evening before and the morning of the incident. The janitorial service said that a power buffer, with a propane combustion engine, had been used to clean the linoleum tile in the daycare the evening before. The local fire department made arrangements with the janitorial service to test the CO emission from the machine. Within seconds of turning the machine on, the CO level within 3 feet of the machine measured 1,000 ppm. Levels greater than 50 ppm over an eight-hour period are considered dangerous. Being an enclosed environment with no proper ventilation, the power buffer should not have been used to clean the daycare center. In fact unless proper ventilation is present, any combustion engine should not be used in any enclosed environment for any purposes (Jones 97).
This incident could have been avoided. The daycare center did not have a CO detector on the property. A CO detector has special sensors that will sound an alarm when a certain level of carbon monoxide is present. Despite the danger of possible CO contamination in homes, carbon monoxide detectors are in place in only a small portion (about 7%) of U.S. homes (Marable 97). According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the reason that carbon monoxide detectors are not in more homes is that the technology is still relatively new. The first CO detectors came out in the early 90’s. These detectors scared potential buyers off, because they would be easily triggered by low levels of carbon monoxide. To counter this problem UL phased in new standards in October of 1995. These standards included the units to be not so, “trigger happy.” The CPSC suggests installing at least one CO detector outside the bedroom areas of your home. Having a detector should not replace proper maintenance fuel burning appliances and their components.
“On a bone-chilling, windy night, the paramedics arrive in the emergency room with Wilma Garver, 70. Mrs. Garver is unconscious and pale, and her mucous membranes are bright red. Mrs. Garver’s granddaughter says she found her grandmother in the bedroom, apparently asleep, but she couldn’t wake her. The house smelled strongly of kerosene, so Mrs. Graver’s granddaughter turned off the kerosene heater in the bedroom, and called 911 (DiDonna 97).”
Two clues that gave Mrs. Gaver’s granddaughter the assumption that her grandmother was being poisoned by carbon monoxide gas were, a strong kerosene odor, and red mucous membranes-a classic sign of CO poisoning. When carbon monoxide enters the human body, it immediately attaches to hemoglobin, displacing oxygen and forming carboxy hemoglobin (Myron 97). At a Cohb level of 10%, you’ll have a headache; 20%, throbbing headache and shortness of breath; 30%, impaired judgment, nausea, dizziness, visual disturbance and fatigue; 40%, confusion and fatigue; 50%, coma and seizures; 60%, low blood pressure and respiratory failure; and 70%, death (Myron 96). Carbon monoxide poisoning is often misdiagnosed as the flu, but if you should suspect carbon monoxide poisoning you should seek immediate medical attention. Addionally, if one member of a family is diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning, all family members need to be examined immediately!