STAYING WARM AND SAFE: THE DANGERS OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING
Recently, I read about a couple and their two toddlers who had to be hospitalized as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.1 Unfortunately, this type of tragic situation is well known to us. We have helped clients who have suffered severe physical and mental injuries following carbon monoxide poisoning. Staying warm in these frigid temperatures can be a challenge, but remember to stay safe in the process. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels. Safely using products which put off CO and recognizing the symptoms of potential poisoning can be life saving.
HOW OFTEN DOES CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING OCCUR?
On average, 170 people in the U.S. die every year from CO produced by consumer products used in their homes and enclosed areas. Common products include fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators and fireplaces. Still others die from CO poisoning when cars are left running in garages. In 2005 alone, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported at least 94 generator-related CO poisoning deaths. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that several thousand people go to hospital emergency rooms every year to be treated for CO poisoning.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING?
Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable by human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. Initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu, but without the fever. The symptoms include: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. However, high level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including: mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and ultimately death.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING?
Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes. Have your heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually, including inspection of chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections. If you rent a house or apartment, talk with your landlord to insure the premises is being safely and properly maintained. Installation of a CO alarms can provide some added protection, but they are no substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO.
Never operate portable generators or any other gasoline engine-powered tools, in or near an enclosed space. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels. Never leave your car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open. Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home. Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping. We recommend you see the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website for a more comprehensive listing of prevention tips. 2
The physical and mental damages from CO poisoning can be devastating. The injuries seen with CO poisoning cases often include brain damage, mental impairments, neurological impairments, personality changes and depression, headaches, hearing and vision loss, balance and motor control problems, heart problems and seizures. So, please be warm, but also safe this winter.
In some cases, a carbon monoxide injury may have been avoided if certain steps were taken to avoid the leak or provide safety equipment to alert individuals to the risk of CO gas. If exposure to carbon monoxide gas was caused by the negligence of another person or corporation, financial compensation may be available through a lawsuit for individuals left with on-going effects of co poisoning. Please contact us, if you believe you or a loved one have suffered carbon monoxide injuries as a result of someones else’s negligence.