Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, invisible and toxic gas that is produced by the incomplete combustion of burning materials. If inhaled, it produces flu-like symptoms and eventually death. Because these symptoms are often accompanied by confusion and can go unrecognized during sleep, CO can quickly kill an uninformed individual or family. The key to survival is to recognize the potential and act quickly.
There are many sources of CO in your home that, when operating normally and maintained properly, pose little threat. These sources include gas, oil, and/or wood-burning furnaces, gas water heaters, gas stoves, gas clothes dryers, barbecue grills, kerosene heaters, and gas and/or wood-burning fireplaces. However, when the CO-production devices malfunction or their flue or chimney becomes obstructed, CO can accumulate in your home rather than be safely vented to the outside. It is this situation that allows unsafe levels of CO to collect in your home and pose a threat to you and your family.
Red blood cells in your blood carry life-sustaining oxygen to all parts of your body including your heart and brain. When CO is present, it bonds to red blood cell much more readily than oxygen and therefore displaces it. Worse, CO can remain in your blood for months and so even small exposure can require aggressive treatment.
The treatment for CO exposure, especially when high levels of CO have been encountered or low levels have been endured for long periods of time, is immediate emergency medical attention with high flow oxygen. If you suspect you or your family is experiencing symptoms or CO poisoning, exit the building immediately and call 9-1-1 (from a neighbors).
Other things you can do to reduce your chances of exposure to carbon monoxide include:
- Install a CO detector in your home near your bedroom. The type with a digital readout is preferred. Contact the CFFD Fire Prevention Bureau (330-971-8406) for advice in this regard. There ARE differences between CO detectors.
- Have your furnace and chimney/flue professionally inspected and serviced at least annually.
- Test all your smoke detectors at least monthly. Although smoke detectors cannot detect CO, they can detect the smoke that often accompanies combustion.
- Ensure adequate ventilation in your home, especially if you use gas-burning stoves, water heaters, or furnaces.
- Do not use space heaters, especially the fuel-burning type.
- Seek immediate medical care if you suspect CO poisoning.
If you have questions on CO and how to protect yourself, contact the CFFD Fire Prevention Bureau at 330-971-8406.