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Protecting yourself from the dangers of carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is odourless, colourless, tasteless and very poisonous. CO prevents your blood from absorbing oxygen leading to loss of consciousness and, in extreme cases, death. It is slightly lighter than air and would tend to rise up as it enters a space.

Unborn babies, infants, seniors, pets and people with coronary or respiratory problems are extremely vulnerable.

What are the symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide?Exposure to CO can cause flu–like symptoms without a fever, including:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness or fatigue
  • burning eyes
  • confusion
  • unconsciousness
  • loss of coordination

If someone is experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms:

  • Leave the house/building immediately and get medical help.
  • Call 911.

If you experience these symptoms while inside, but feel better outdoors or away from home, CO may be the cause.

Consult your doctor and advise him/her of the potential exposure to CO poisoning.

What are the danger signs of carbon monoxide?Be alert to these signs:

  • Stale, stuffy air in your home.
  • The pilot light of your furnace or other gas–fired equipment keeps going out.
  • A sharp smell of rotten eggs when furnaces and appliances turn on.
  • A normally clear blue burner flame becomes "lazy" and mostly yellow or pilot light turns mostly yellow. Note that a little yellow will always be present. Small bits of airborne dust will go through the flame causing some yellow.
  • Chalky, white powder on a chimney or exhaust vent pipe or soot build–up around the exhaust vent.
  • Excessive moisture on walls or windows in areas with natural gas equipment.
  • Be sure to check your humidifier settings as well. If the humidifier is turned up too much, this can also cause moisture build up on windows and walls.
  • Your carbon monoxide alarm sounds

Where does carbon monoxide come from?CO is a by–product of burning fuels, including wood, heating oil, propane, kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel, coal, charcoal, and natural gas. All fuel–burning equipment and appliances are potential sources for carbon monoxide.

The natural occurring products of combustion are as follows: carbon dioxide, water, vapour, nitrogen and heat. Carbon monoxide is NOT a regular part of these products unless there is a problem.

Carbon monoxide hazards can result from:

  • Natural gas heating systems and appliances that are not properly maintained.
  • Gas–fired equipment in an enclosed space, which has an inadequate fresh air supply for venting of exhausts.
  • Dirt and blockage such as a blocked chimney or flue.
  • Careless use of equipment, for example, running gasoline–powered equipment in an attached garage.
  • Using equipment which consumes household air. A roaring fire can use up to ten times as much air as your furnace. If possible, open a window near the wood fireplace, helping replace the air that is going up the chimney.
  • Tobacco smoking also contributes small amounts of CO into the air.

Do natural gas appliances produce carbon monoxide?Natural gas appliances that are properly installed and maintained should not release carbon monoxide. To operate safely, any fuel–burning appliances must have:

  • An adequate supply of fresh air.
  • Effective venting that carries exhaust outdoors

When you change your clocks in the spring and in the fall, test your alarm and change the batteries. This will ensure your device is operating properly.

Related Link
Carbon Monoxide Safety Association