It strikes me as bizarre that most homes in America haven’t yet installed at least one carbon monoxide alarm. Why do I say that? Poisonings occur daily around the country – here are just a few this month…
Recent Carbon Monoxide Poisonings
- An insufficiently ventilated gas generator left one man dead and his wife and two children hospitalized in Pell Lake WI.
- A Couple rescued by firefighters was hospitalized in Suffolk, VA.
- Three people in an apartment building were hospitalized in Falls Church, VA and all other residents evacuated leaving them homeless for the night.
- Two teenagers were sent to the emergency room from West Valley City UT after a heater in their room was damaged.
You can do a quick search of Google News to find the details of these, and many similar incidents which have occurred recently.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Statistics
When we look at actual statistics, the danger becomes even clearer:
- Fire Departments across the country responded to approximately 80,000 non-fire Carbon Monoxide incidents in 2010 in which Carbon Monoxide was found to be present (source).
- Carbon Monoxide was responsible for 15,000 emergency department visits and 500 unintentional deaths nationwide in 2004 (source) – those numbers are expected to have risen since then due to population growth.
- Carbon Monoxide is the single biggest cause of accidental poisoning throughout the developed world (source).
What Are the Causes?
It’s quite simple – any appliance that burns a fossil fuel such as heaters, stoves, ovens, generators, fire places, grills etc., can produce carbon monoxide gas.
Usually when carbon is burnt it oxidizes to produce Carbon Dioxide – that is two Oxygen atoms attached to each Carbon atom. But if there isn’t enough Oxygen present (often due to a malfunction – but not always), then only one Oxygen atom is attached to many of the Carbon atoms – this is Carbon Monoxide.
How to Prevent Poisoning in your Home
Fortunately, it’s quite easy to protect your family. Just follow these simple guidelines (and use a little common sense):
- Have all fossil fuel burning appliances properly maintained and serviced at least once a year
- Never use a fossil fuel powered grill or generator in an enclosed space
- Only allow licensed/qualified professionals to install fossil fuel burning appliances
- Ensure all vents and flumes are properly maintained
- Never leave a motor vehicle running in an attached garage
- Install carbon monoxide alarms throughout your home:
- On every floor of your home
- Within 15 feet of each bedroom
- Within 10 feet of an attached garage, and in any room directly above it
- Mount on walls at eye level and out of reach of small children
Carbon Monoxide is a silent killer and you have no way of knowing it’s present in your home without a suitable detector or alarm because it has no taste or smell. Many of the symptoms of poisoning are very similar to other causes like the flu, and by the time the symptoms are becoming obvious, the victims are usually very close to, or have already lost consciousness.
If poisoning occurs, or your alarms go off, evacuate the building immediately and call 911.
Jason Horton is the editor of Totally Home Improvement – a website devoted to projects and ideas for improving home life which also has an entire section devoted to Home Safety and Security where you can get more advice like this, or feel free to follow on Twitter @Totally_Home.