Carbon monoxide gas is odorless, colorless, tasteless and poisonous. Nearly 1,800 people die each year from carbon monoxide exposure and about 10,000 more seek medical attention for it. Everyone is at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, but infants, children, senior citizens and people with carbon monoxide coronary or respiratory problems stand the greatest risk.
Why is carbon monoxide so dangerous?
The great danger of carbon monoxide is its attraction to hemoglobin in the bloodstream. Carbon monoxide is breathed in through the lungs and bonds with hemoglobin in the blood, displacing the oxygen cells need to function. When carbon monoxide is present in the air, it rapidly accumulates in the blood, forming a toxic compound knows as carboxyhemoglobin (COHb).
Where does carbon monoxide come from?
Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion, which means it is emitted when any fuel is burned. Common sources of carbon monoxide in the home include:
- Blocked or clogged chimney opening
- Portable heater
- Gas or wood burning fireplace
- Improperly adjusted gas kitchen range or top vent
- Gas clothes dryer
- Operating barbecue grill in enclosed area such as a garage
- Corroded, disconnected or obstructed water heater vent pipe
- Leaking chimney pipe or flue
- Cracked heat exchanger
- Automobile exhaust
All of these sources can contribute to a carbon monoxide problem in the home. If a home is vented properly and is free from appliance malfunctions, air pressure fluctuations or airway blockages, carbon monoxide will most likely be safely vented to the outside. But in today's energy efficient homes this is frequently not the case. Insulation and weather-stripping meant to keep warm air in during winter months can trap carbon monoxide polluted air in a home year round. Furnace heat exchangers can crack, vents can become blocked, inadequate air supply for combustion appliances can cause conditions known as back drafting or reverse stacking, drawing contaminated air back into the home. Inspection and maintenance is key to ensuring the safe function of these possible carbon monoxide sources.
How can I protect myself from carbon monoxide poisoning?
How will you know if carbon monoxide is present in your home? Because it is odorless, colorless and tasteless, you won't without a carbon monoxide detector. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning resemble the flu, without a fever. Dizziness, nausea, fatigue, headache and irregular breathing are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. You should be concerned if you have any of these symptoms and they disappear when you leave your house, only to return when you get home.
The Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide detector per household, near the sleeping area. A second detector near the home's heat source provides extra protection. Choose an Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) listed detector that sounds an audible alarm.
What to do
- Have your heating system, including chimney and vents, serviced by a licensed technician each year.
- Have your chimney checked and cleaned if you use a wood or coal-burning stove.
- Install one, preferably two carbon monoxide detectors in you home. Read, understand and follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation.
- Test your carbon monoxide detectors on a regular basis to ensure they are working properly.
- Provide some ventilation in the winter, ever if it's just a slightly open window.
- Ensure only qualified technicians install fuel-burning appliances.
- Read, understand and follow the manufacturer's directions for all fuel-burning appliances in your home.
- Service your motor vehicle on a regular basis to keep it running correctly.
- Seek medical attention and call 911 if you feel any of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Dial 9-1-1 and evacuate your home immediately if you carbon monoxide detector sounds. Leave your doors and windows closed so the Fire Department can more accurately determine if carbon monoxide is present.
What not to do
- Never heat your home with the oven or range burner.
- Never install carbon monoxide detectors that do not meet the requirements of UL 2034.
- Never idle your automobile, even for a minute, in your garage.
- Never perform your own maintenance on fuel-burning appliances. Hire a licensed technician.
- Never attempt to bypass a safety device on any fuel-burning appliance.
- Never ignore an odor of fuel. This indicates a problem with the appliance or a leak in the fuel system.
- Never run snow blowers, lawn mowers or similar appliances inside your garage.
- Never use gas or charcoal grills inside a garage.
- Never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm.
- Never drive a vehicle with a defective or leaking exhaust system.
The Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department recommends that every home have a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide poisoning causes thousands of death each year because it is colorless, odorless and tasteless and often goes undetected until it’s too late.
The Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department would be happy to meet with your group or organization to discuss fire safety. To schedule a visit, please fill out this form or contact Fire Prevention at (816) 784-9100.