New Britain City Journal

New Britain's Weekly Online Newspaper


Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: You Never Saw It Coming

Several months ago in Waterbury, a carbon monoxide (CO) outbreak sent 32 elementary school students and faculty to the hospital. The school is now installing CO detectors and taking precautions to avoid this from happening again. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America ; it is also one of the most preventable. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that CO poisoning claims nearly 500 lives and causes more than 1,500 visits to hospital emergency departments annually.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas produced by burning material containing carbon. It is produced by common household appliances that are not properly ventilated. The most common sources of CO are motor vehicle exhausts, boat engine fumes, smoke from fires, gas water heaters, spray paint, solvents, degreasers, and paint remover. Exposure to Carbon monoxide, especially in contained areas, impacts the normal transport of oxygen. Red blood cells in the body pick up carbon monoxide particles quicker than they pick up oxygen. If there is a large amount of carbon monoxide in the air the body begins to replace oxygen in the blood with CO. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and sometimes result in death.

It is important to be aware of the common signs and symptoms of CO poisoning. These include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fainting

A very common indicator of CO poisoning is when more than one person in the same vicinity is experiencing the same signs and symptoms. Seek medical care if you begin to experience any of these symptoms and other people or pets in the house are affected as well. By familiarizing yourself with the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning you can help prevent CO deaths and save a life.

To avoid CO poisoning make sure heating systems and chimneys are inspected and cleaned by a qualified technician every year, do not operate gasoline-powered engines in confined areas such as garages or basements, and do not leave your car, mower or other vehicle running in an attached garage even with the door open. The most effective way to prevent deaths by carbon monoxide poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide detector on every floor in your house. Detectors should be plugged in to outlets five inches from the floor or mounted on the ceiling. According to the National Fire Protection Association 93% of homes have smoke alarms, yet the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that only 15% have carbon monoxide alarms. CO detectors are typically not expensive, and tend to cost anywhere from twenty to sixty dollars. You can also choose from either a plug in or a battery powered CO detector. Modern technology has advanced the battery life of some CO detectors up to six or seven years. You can find CO detectors at any Target, Sears, or Wal-Mart or they can even be purchased online at