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The PPM Blog

Carbon Monoxide – The Silent Killer

a man wearing a blue shirtContributed by Keith Lemchak, Senior Project Manager, PPM Consultants

Before joining PPM Consultants, I was employed by the City of Philadelphia’s Air Management Services and one of the duties of the unit I was in charge of was to assist the Fire Department confirm the source of Carbon Monoxide if a person was hospitalized or deceased.  The most common source of CO poisoning in my experience were from disconnected flue pipes and the most tragic were from using gasoline powered generators inside the home to provide electricity.  So, I’ve seen firsthand the tragedies that could have been prevented with some knowledge of this issue. For those of you unfamiliar with CO, below is a brief description of what CO poisoning is and what to do to prevent it.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas produced from the incomplete combustion of fuels such as natural gas, oil, propane, gasoline, wood or charcoal.  These fuels are used to heat your homes, power your generators and to cook your food.  As winter approaches the incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning increase as people turn on their heating systems or use alternative ways to heat their homes.

When exposed to elevated levels of CO, the CO molecules block the oxygen you breathe from being absorbed into your body.  When this happens you can experience headache, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness which can be mistaken for the flu.  This can cause you to ignore the early symptoms of CO poisoning and lead to hospitalization or death.  You think that you are going to sleep to try and recover from the flu, but the CO is making you lose consciousness and can potentially take your life.  This is why  it’s often called the “silent killer”.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates at least 420 people die and over 100,000 are hospitalized in the United States every year due to CO poisoning.  The majority of these incidents can be prevented by taking the following prevention measures:

  • Install and maintain CO alarms.  They should be installed on every floor of your home and near sleeping areas.  Making sure to check the batteries every year and replace the unit every five years.
  • Inspect heating systems and fuel burning appliances annually.  Specifically, check for proper ventilation.
  • Never use a generator or grill indoors.  When using them outdoors, make sure they are used away from any doors or windows.
  • Check that the flue is open and clear of any obstructions when using a fireplace.
  • Use an electric space heater rather than a fuel powered one.
  • Never run a vehicle or fuel burning equipment in an enclosed garage.
  • Never use a gas oven to heat your home.

So, as it gets colder outside, please make sure your home has a functioning CO detector before you turn on the heat.  Please share this with friends and family.  Let’s keep the Silent Killer out of all of our lives.

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