America’s suffering a deep freeze this weekend – and the risk of carbon monoxide related poisoning climbs as people try to stay warm. Much of America is unprepared for such low temperatures, with rarely-used and poorly maintained heating systems, chimneys clogged with debris or birds nests, or dead batteries in their carbon monoxide detectors. Others will try dangerous methods to stay warm, methods like using auxiliary heaters indoors.
According to JAMA, carbon monoxide is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in America. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and cannot be detected by people without the use of carbon monoxide detectors.
Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion, present whenever fuel is burned. It is produced by common household appliances such as gas or oil furnaces, clothes dryers, water heaters, ovens and ranges. A charcoal grill operating in an enclosed area, a fire burning in a fireplace or a car running in an attached garage also produce carbon monoxide.
How Does Carbon Monoxide Poison?
CO combines with hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying agent in the red blood cells. When oxygen is robbed from the brain and other organs, death can result. In addition, up to 40 percent of survivors of severe CO poisoning develop memory impairment and other serious illnesses.
Many cases of reported carbon monoxide poisoning indicate that victims are aware they are not well but become so disoriented that they are unable to save themselves.
But what do you do and who to you call when your carbon monoxide detector goes into alarm? The manufacturer of First Alert®, the leading brand of carbon monoxide detectors, recommends the following:
If the alarm goes off, turn off appliances, or other sources of combustion at once. Immediately get fresh air into the premises by opening doors and windows. Call a qualified technician and have the problem fixed before restarting appliances. If anyone is experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headaches, dizziness, vomiting, call the fire department and immediately move to a location that has fresh air. Do a head count to be sure all persons are accounted for. Do not re-enter the premises until it has been aired out and the problem corrected.
This weekend stay safe, err on the side of caution. Carbon Monoxide Detectors are available at most hardware stores and retailers like WalMart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware, etc. They generally cost between $20 to $40 each – the more expensive ones have a digital readout to give you a real-time and highest-recorded PPM reading.