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article imageOp-Ed: Defending your home against a ‘silent killer’

By Shawn Kay     Jan 31, 2013 in Health
Each year hundreds of people in the U.S. and Canada are killed in their homes by a particularly insidious killer. Learn what can be done to protect yourself and your loved ones from carbon monoxide.
This year, hundreds of lives in both the United States and Canada will be claimed by a stealthy killer that will silently break into their homes, creep into their bedrooms and kill them without mercy or remorse.
Most of these lives will be swiftly snuffed out while in their most vulnerable state – in deep slumber under the late night twilight or during the early morning hours.
While this deadly intruder can strike at any time, authorities note that this particular assailant prefers to strike at night while under the cover of darkness and cloaked in death. Its method of operation and the manner in which it chooses to dispatch its woeful victims are bitterly tragic, deceptive, shrewd, clinical, and usually absolute.
This killer never pilfers any valuables and authorities will find no signs of forced entry into a victim’s home. Its only desire is to briefly occupy a home before slaying all of its inhabitants – both human and animal.
Even as you read this, the killer in question is ever so silently stalking someone in their very home, biding its time before finally unleashing its fatal assault.
Is this killer in your home? Is it stalking you and your family?
What’s more is that the authorities cannot protect you from this ruthless murderer. And thus, the murder wave continues unabated while the killer marches on racking up a body count that would make any serial killer or mass murderer green with perverse envy.
However, the identity of this monster is well-known to the authorities and even the general public.
This killer is carbon monoxide and only YOU can protect yourself and loved ones from it.
Carbon monoxide has been called “the silent killer” by public health officials because of the very rapid and stealth-like fashion in which it claims its victims.
In fact, carbon monoxide is such a shrewd and unique killer of its victims that there was a time not very long ago when coroners and medical experts were not always able to determine it as the cause of death during autopsies.
It’s no secret to public health and emergency officials that carbon monoxide poisonings nationwide rise during the winter months.
In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report showing that most accidental carbon monoxide poisonings happen in January and February, and the second most in December. The fewest are in the summer months of July and August.
From 1999 to 2004, the state of California had the lowest rate of carbon monoxide poisoning while Nebraska had the highest.
Local authorities throughout the U.S. report that they receive the highest volume of calls for carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter months.
Because this particular killer typically strikes with very little warning, you must take every opportunity to be prepared to defend against it. We will look at some precautions that you can take to protect yourself and loved ones from “the silent killer.”
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a gas that is produced when any carbon-based fuel is burned. Such fuels include: gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas, kerosene, wood, coal, charcoal, alcohol, as well as several others.
Carbon monoxide gas is colorless, tasteless, and odorless. It also happens to be very toxic to humans and animals, especially when encountered in high concentrations in enclosed spaces.
This toxic gas causes harm by entering the bloodstream and bonding to the hemoglobin in the red blood cells, interfering with the hemoglobin’s efforts to deliver oxygen throughout the body. In essence, carbon monoxide causes harm and even death through chemical-based asphyxiation.
According to the CDC, approximately 450 Americans die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year while another 20,000 visit the Emergency Room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.
In Canada, an estimated 414 lives are claimed by carbon monoxide annually according to statistics provided by provincial coroners and compiled by The Canadian Press and CBC News.
Globally, carbon monoxide is estimated to claim thousands of lives on an annual basis.
Most carbon monoxide poisoning deaths occur late at night or during the early morning hours while people are fast asleep in their homes. They simply never wake up.
Typical sources of carbon monoxide in the home are usually gas-emitting appliances which include most of the following:
•Stove: gas and wood stoves
•Gas operated dryers
•Generators that operate on gasoline, propane, or diesel
•Gasoline/petrol powered garden tools
•Barbeque grills that burn gas or charcoal
•Furnaces: natural gas, propane, oil, wood furnaces
•Fireplaces: gas, wood, coal burning fireplaces
•Hot water heater
Motor vehicles such as cars, vans, trucks and recreational vehicles or campers can also be quite a significant source of this gas, especially if their engines are left running while parked in a garage.
Sources of carbon monoxide may vary depending on the type of dwelling. Houses in suburban and rural areas tend to have more carbon monoxide sources and thus a higher number of emergencies from this poisonous gas than apartments. However, it should also be noted that carbon monoxide emergencies can and have taken place in high-rise apartment buildings in urban areas, though admittedly with less frequency.
Overall, the majority of the carbon monoxide produced in homes comes from combustion of fuel for heating or cooking.
Defenses against a ‘Silent Killer’: Recognizing Poisoning Symptoms and other Safety Measures
To successfully defend your home and loved ones against the threat of carbon monoxide, it is imperative to know the symptoms of poisoning that are produced by this toxic gas.
The ill effects of carbon monoxide gas could range from such minor and short-term effects such as a headache and vomiting to more severe symptoms like those of seizure or convulsions, brain damage, coma and death.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), symptoms resulting from low concentrations of carbon monoxide will cause fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease.
At higher concentrations carbon monoxide can cause blurred vision and coordination, a very strong headache, dizziness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, incoherent behavior, mood swings, increased rate of breathing, breathlessness, abnormal heart beat, seizures and convulsions, angina, and reduced brain function, and sudden unconsciousness.
At very high concentrations, the toxic gas can cause coma and death within minutes.
Carbon monoxide is very deceptive as its symptoms often mimic and are mistaken for the flu or food poisoning.
However, installing a carbon monoxide detector or CO detector in your home will help even up the score in the battle against this chemical menace.
A CO detector is your best weapon against the poisonous gas.
The CO detector is a device that detects the presence of the carbon monoxide gas in order to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. When harmful levels of carbon monoxide are present, the device emits a rather loud and shrill alarm.
The CO detector is very similar to the smoke detector (which is also an absolute must for your home).
Tip #1 - Introducing the CO Detector into Your Home: if you live in a multi-story home, a CO detector should be installed on every floor. Some experts have even gone as far as to say that you should also have one detector outside each bedroom of your home.
At the very least, if you only have one CO detector in your home it should be installed directly outside your bedroom.
A Carbon Monoxide alarm device.
A Carbon Monoxide alarm device.
If you live in a house, it is strongly recommended that you place a CO detector in your basement where the furnace and other gas operated appliances tend to be.
It is important to note that CO detectors are not a substitute for smoke detectors and vice versa. You should also know the difference between the sounds of your CO detector and your smoke detector.
Both California and Washington state have recently passed laws requiring any single-family home containing a fossil fuel burning heater or appliance, fireplace, or an attached garage to install CO alarms.
CO detectors can be purchased at Kmart, Wal-Mart and virtually any hardware or home supply store. They come in various shapes and sizes and range in price from $25 to $50.
After obtaining your CO detector, take note of the expiry date if it is indicated. If it is not, replace the device after five years.
You should change your CO detector’s batteries at least twice a year. A good way to remember when to change the batteries is to do so when you set your clocks for daylight savings (this should also be the time when you change your smoke detector’s batteries as well).
Most importantly, properly maintain and be nice to your CO detector (don’t mistreat it). Remember, its there to save your life and that of your loved ones and it may very well do so one day.
Tip #2 - If Your CO Alarm Sounds, Do Not Ignore It Or Turn It Off: if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off resist the temptation to ignore it or remove its batteries. You may be tempted to do this, especially if the alarm sounds in the middle of the night. Don’t do it! Do not treat the CO detector and its alarm as simply a nuisance or annoyance to be ignored. If it is late at night, resist the urge to simply go back to sleep. Always take any alarm being emitted by your CO detector very seriously.
Even if you do not feel any adverse symptoms, do not ignore the CO detector if its alarm sounds.
Tip #3 - Get Outside Immediately: the overriding goal here is to escape the toxic carbon monoxide gas by getting outdoors to fresh air as soon as possible. At the most, you may only have a few short minutes to escape before being overcome by this hazardous gas. Call 9-1-1 (or whatever the emergency phone number is in your municipality) for crisis assistance. An emergency dispatcher will send the fire department and ambulances to your location. Make sure everyone inside your home is accounted for. Once you are outside do not re-enter your home until emergency officials tell you that it is safe for you to do so. Officials at the scene will also determine if you or anyone else in your home should go to a hospital emergency room for treatment. In many North American cities, a carbon monoxide emergency is considered to be a serious event, so do not be surprised to see a massive response by local officials resulting in the street in front of your home resembling something of a parking lot for fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles.
A carbon monoxide emergency is usually serious enough to warrant the response of more than a dozen firefighters and paramedics. In some cases a Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) Team, a rare but highly specialized public safety squad that is trained and equipped to handle chemical emergencies, may also show up at the location of the incident.
Hazardous Materials Company No. 1 – The New York City Fire Department’s (FDNY) Hazardous Materia...
Hazardous Materials Company No. 1 – The New York City Fire Department’s (FDNY) Hazardous Materials Response Team on scene in Midtown Manhattan
Peter Stehlik
It may be several hours before it is safe for you to re-enter your home as firefighters and HAZMAT teams locate and eliminate the source of carbon monoxide gas while also opening windows and ventilating your residence of this toxic gas.
A recent late night carbon monoxide incident at an apartment building in New York City resulted in a massive emergency response that saw at least 200 firefighters dispatched to the location to help with the evacuation of hundreds of tenants from the residential dwelling. Fortunately no one was seriously injured in that incident.
Breath carbon monoxide monitoring device displaying results of a test. If you are taken to the emerg...
Breath carbon monoxide monitoring device displaying results of a test. If you are taken to the emergency department of hospital as a result of carbon monoxide, doctors and nurses may use this type of device to determine if the amount of CO within your body is at a dangerous level. Paramedics and HAZMAT teams sometimes also have these devices and may use them to determine the CO content within a person during an emergency.
The following are additional safety tips that focus on prevention of a carbon monoxide emergency:
Tip #4 - Have Your Appliances Inspected by a Certified Professional: having your home appliances inspected by a certified professional on an annual basis is a preventative and highly recommended safety measure by public health officials that may keep you from having a carbon monoxide emergency to begin with.
You should have a trained technician check your water heater, furnace, and any appliances that burn gas, oil or coal to ensure adequate exhaust and venting within your home. Improperly or unvented furnaces and heaters are a lead cause in carbon monoxide poisoning cases during the winter months.
You should have your chimney and fireplace inspected by a professional annually. Faulty chimneys and fireplaces are yet another major source of carbon monoxide gas.
Tip #5 - Never use any fuel-burning devices to heat your home: this includes gasoline generators, propane or kerosene heaters, or gas stoves.
When these devices are used indoors, lethal levels of carbon monoxide can rapidly build up and can linger for hours, even after the fuel-burning device has been shut off. Generators should always be placed outdoors.
Do not use any fuel-burning device as a source of heat indoors, ever.
Tip #6 - Do not idle the car inside garage: while it may be tempting to warm up your car inside the garage during the winter months, you should refrain from doing it. The carbon monoxide gas from the exhaust could seep into your home and kill people and pets.
Never run your car indoors, even if the garage doors are open.
If you need to warm your car, it is advised that you remove it from your garage immediately after starting it.
Also, check to make sure the exhaust pipe of your car is not blocked by snow, ice or other debris.
Some other sound safety tips provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Fire Administration include the following:
•Have fuel-burning heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood stoves, coal stoves, space heaters and portable heaters) and chimneys inspected by a professional every year.
•Open the damper for proper ventilation before using a fireplace.
•When purchasing new heating and cooking equipment, select products tested and labeled by a recognized testing laboratory.
•Make sure all fuel-burning vented equipment is vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the venting for exhaust clear and unblocked.
•Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow and other debris.
•Only use barbecue grills outside, away from all doors, windows, vents and other building openings. Some grills can produce carbon monoxide gas. Never use grills inside the home or the garage, even if the doors are open.
•Use portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from all doors, windows, vents and other building openings to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the home.
Lastly, if you suspect that yourself or a family member is experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning, immediately evacuate your home and go to a hospital emergency department for evaluation and treatment.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Carbon monoxide, Carbon monoxide poisoning, the silent killer, Centers for disease, California
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