Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that is odorless, colorless, tasteless and lighter than air. It can only be detected by a measuring device or CO detector. Other names for this gas is flue gas, carbonyl or carbonous oxide. It has a boiling point of -191 °C and melting point of -205 °C.
This gas is produced as a result of incomplete combustion in oil or gas-fired appliances especially in an enclosed space.
Stoves and vehicles that are operated using gas and petroleum-based fuel are all able to produce CO. The incomplete burning of coal, kerosene, wood, forest and bushfires are also sources of this gas. When the amount of oxygen is not enough for the combustion to be completed to produce carbon dioxide, the CO will be produced.
Why is CO Dangerous?
This gas is poisonous because it replaces the oxygen in the hemoglobin of the blood causing the lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. This cause the cells and ultimately the major organs in the humans or animals to be deprived of oxygen that is needed for life to function. Breathing in large amount of CO continuously can cause chest pain, headaches, vomiting, dizziness, sleepiness, loss of consciousness and death.
The effect of carbon monoxide poisoning is faster in fetuses, infants, the elderly, people with heart problems and people with anemic. Though the effect can be reversed if discover earlier, permanent damage may happen to the heart or brain.
Every year, more than 400 people in the U.S. are killed and over 50,000 go for treatments in hospital due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Watch the video by CDC.
Standards for CO Exposure
According to ASHRAE, the maximum allowable concentration for short-term exposure in a living area is 9 parts per million (ppm) or 0.0009%.
The OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) PEL (Permissible Exposure Limits) for CO is 50 ppm or 0.005%. This is the maximum exposure allowed during an 8-hour time period.
How To Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Here are some steps you can take to protect people and animals from this gas.
Install CO detectors in all areas of the homes or buildings where a combustion process is being used and locations where this gas may collect. As the gas can travel anywhere, install at least one on every level. Use detectors with at least battery back-up to ensure they are still operating when there is power outages. Check and change the batteries when necessary. The detectors will sound an alarm when the amount of CO is above the threshold. A digital type with LCD or LED display is recommended to enable you to know the concentration level of this gas. Kidde, the manufacturer of CO alarms recommends the alarms to be changed every 7-10 years.
A CO Detector from Kidde
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Regularly check and service the heating appliances such as stoves and furnaces that use natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, propane and coal to ensure that they are functioning and installed properly with proper ventilation.
Ensure that the combustion appliances are properly installed and fresh air intake from outside must be available.
Do not let your vehicles warm-up or let them run in a garage or enclosed space as auto exhaust is considered one of the main contributors of CO detectors alarm being triggered.
Do not use a gas-powered generator in the garage or indoor. It must always be operated outdoors and at least 20 feet away from any window, vent or door. Watch the video on this by NIST.
Check and clean-up your chimney every year to ensure it is not blocked.
Seek medical advice if you are suspicious of CO poisoning and have the symptoms of feeling dizzy or nauseating.
Change gas-powered appliances to those powered by electricity or batteries.
Train workers on the sources and conditions that may cause CO poisoning including symptoms to look out for.