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There are many hazards that present special dangers to homeowners. Few, however, are as dangerous as carbon monoxide. In high concentrations, carbon monoxide exposure can cause severe illness and even death. Fortunately, carbon monoxide is easy to monitor and relatively easy to prevent.
Carbon Monoxide Facts
Carbon monoxide is a clear, odorless and tasteless gas with the chemical formula CO. Every year, approximately 500 people in the United States die from exposure to carbon monoxide. An additional 8,000 to 15,000 people are treated for non-fire exposure to it. Homeowners cannot prevent all carbon monoxide from entering the home. Typically, 0.3 to 2.5 parts per million of it is found in the home at any time. At these levels, it does not present too much of a hazard. However, at concentrations of nine parts per million or higher, carbon monoxide becomes dangerous. Homes in urban areas generally have higher carbon monoxide levels than homes in rural areas.
Carbon monoxide is an asphyxiant, meaning it displaces essential oxygen gas when it enters the bloodstream, dangerously reducing the oxygen concentration in the body. Individuals with carbon monoxide poisoning may experience minor symptoms like headaches, dizziness and weakness. However, more dangerous symptoms may also present themselves. Nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurry vision and loss of consciousness are associated with exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide. In worst case scenarios, exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide can cause severe brain damage or death.
In the home, there are many sources of carbon monoxide. Common household appliances like gas and wood stoves, gas ovens, water heaters, clothing dryers and gas and wood-burning fireplaces all release carbon monoxide. Other than common household appliances, cars, tobacco smoke, power tools and lawn equipment also release carbon monoxide. Outside of the home, homeowners should be wary of carbon monoxide released from boats, heating equipment and power generators.
Prevention and Monitoring
Fortunately, while carbon monoxide is very dangerous, exposure is easily preventable, and it can be monitored with the proper equipment. All homes should install carbon monoxide alarms near carbon monoxide sources and areas where people and animals sleep. Many hardware stores now offer alarms that can detect smoke and carbon monoxide. Homeowners should consider these alarms because they provide extra protection. If carbon monoxide is detected in the home, everyone inside should immediately evacuate and contact the local fire department. While alarms can warn homeowners of the presence of carbon monoxide, they do not actually prevent carbon monoxide exposure. Carbon monoxide sources should be properly ventilated. Ventilation areas like chimney shafts should be regularly inspected. Additionally, cars should never run while sitting for long periods in the garage. If a car is running in the garage, homeowners should ensure, at the very minimum, that the garage door is open fully. Finally, homeowners should only use gas and charcoal grills outside and never indoors. There is no way to properly ventilate them indoors.
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