Practically everybody knows that carbon monoxide (CO) is deadly to humans and animals, but not enough people bother to do something about it. That’s why every year, hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning, and tens of thousands more are hospitalized. In this three part series, Gillece Services will highlight the danger posed by carbon monoxide, then show you how to safeguard your Pittsburgh home and more importantly, your family.
First, the threat.
CO is often called the “silent killer,” as it is virtually undetectable to the human senses. You can’t see, hear, or feel it, and in its pure form, it’s odorless. Exposure to high concentrations can kill quickly and even small amounts over time can cause serious illness and death.
Chemically speaking, CO is a single oxygen atom bonded with a single carbon atom. When a carbon fuel like gasoline, coal, or natural gas is burned, two carbon atoms bond with a single oxygen atom to form CO2, or carbon dioxide. Inevitably, though, some of the burning is incomplete, and the result is CO, meaning just one carbon atom bonds with the oxygen atom. While excess CO2 isn’t healthy, you would know if there was a threat because you would immediately start suffocating, like a scuba diver whose water tank stopped functioning. Carbon monoxide is much stealthier.
Around the house, the most common CO threats are your furnace, your water heater, any kind of portable fuel-burning heat device, and your gas oven. Cars in attached garages are also dangerous if they’re left running.
One New Mexico apartment complex recently saw five carbon monoxide poisonings that were traced to a defective water heater, while an elderly Pennsylvania couple was found dead in their house after their car was left running in the garage. In Colorado last month, a man died from a faulty heater in his RV.
Carbon monoxide kills by entering the bloodstream and effectively blocking the intake of oxygen. This starves your brain and vital organs of the oxygen they need to survive. If the exposure is high, death comes quickly, sometimes within minutes. If the exposure is low, but continued over a period of weeks or months, carbon monoxide levels accumulate in your blood and slowly destroy your body’s organs.
If it wasn’t bad enough that humans can’t detect carbon monoxide in the air, the most common symptoms of CO poisoning, especially low exposure poisoning, are vague. Typically people report headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Often, these are confused with flu symptoms. People who are sleeping can die from CO poisoning without ever experiencing symptoms.
If caught in time, carbon monoxide poisoning can be reversed, but depending on the levels in the blood, it can lead to permanent physical or neurological damage.
The greatest tragedy in carbon monoxide poisonings is that they’re completely preventable. By installing quality detectors and having your gas appliances inspected by a professional with the right equipment, you can literally save lives.
Gillece Services, a Pittsburgh-based Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electrical company, also offers products and services that improve your Indoor Air Quality. Call 1-888-66-BURGH to learn more!
See the second and third installment of this series to learn how to get started – COMING SOON!