By Rachel Dove
CHARLESTON - It has no taste, no odor, no color. But it can very easily end your life in a matter of minutes.
Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas that is extremely hard to detect, and is responsible for many deaths all over the world. It is a common hazard that is associated with the incomplete burning of natural gas and carbon-related fuels such as propane, coal, wood and kerosene.
When carbon monoxide is breathed in, it poisons the body by displacing the oxygen levels in the blood and effectively starving vital organs, such as the heart and brain, of oxygen. This can cause loss of consciousness and suffocation, and breathing in a large amount of this gas can take a deadly effect in a matter of minutes.
Although the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can vary from person to person, there are common symptoms that include chest tightness, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, chest pain, muscle weakness and loss of consciousness.
If it is caught in time, carbon monoxide poisoning can be reversed, but depending on the level that is breathed, it can result in permanent damage to vital organs. It is particularly dangerous because it can kill without you even sensing its presence, which is the reason behind the gas being dubbed the “silent killer.” Those affected simply slip into unconsciousness and never come around again, or they may be asleep at the time they begin inhaling the gas, and fail to wake up again.
Long-term exposure to carbon monoxide in the home is not all that uncommon, and causes thousands of deaths each year. The symptoms of the gas poisoning are often mistaken as the flu or a similar common ailment, as the symptoms are generally viewed as non-specific. Unlike the flu, carbon monoxide poisoning does not produce feverish symptoms or glandular swelling. The symptoms of the poisoning may also come and go, or seem more severe on some occasions, and flu-like symptoms are usually continual until it has passed.
Victims of the gas poisoning may develop health conditions related to long-term exposure that include brain damage, heart problems, major organ dysfunction, memory or cognitive problems, behavioral and personality changes, among a range of other permanent symptoms.
A fatality that occurred approximately one year ago at the Holiday Inn Express on U.S. Highway 119 at the Southridge Shopping Plaza in Charleston was attributed to a carbon monoxide leak from a faulty pipe on the swimming pool heater. Sixteen others were also sickened after breathing the deadly gas. This incident brought the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning to the forefront in the 2013 state legislative session, and a task force has been formed to further investigate this danger and to draft new laws that will require closer monitoring. The group consists of first responders, emergency personnel, health department employees and school officials.
The leaders serving on the Kanawha County-based committee all readily agree that public awareness is the main key to successfully alleviating this problem. They have created pamphlets that are being handed out to customers of numerous businesses across the state to bring attention to how to properly diagnose and remedy possible hazards in the home.
The “Meals on Wheels” program, which supplies hot meals daily to qualifying senior citizens throughout West Virginia, are distributing the pamphlets in hopes of educating those who are among the most vulnerable to the poison. Another idea is to take the funding provided annually for fire departments and other civic organizations to purchase detectors that are a combination smoke/fire alarm and a carbon monoxide detector, in hopes that this will protect families to a greater extent that they do now.
They remind the public of the need for a monitor in the home and state that the poisoning usually peaks in winter.
General precautionary measures recommended to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning are included in the informative pamphlets, and are as follows:
Ensure that you have all fire-burning appliances checked regularly by a trained and certified professional. This includes furnaces, gas heaters, ovens, fireplaces, etc. Make sure to check chimney flues and vents regularly for blockages that would prevent gas emissions from escaping through the proper channels.
If possible, always opt for fuel appliances that vent fumes to the outside, and ensure they are fitted and checked by professionals. Always follow the instructions when using a fuel-burning device. Do not sleep in a room that has an unvented heater, and do not use a gas stove or a gas oven to heat your home. Don’t burn any fuel or use any related appliances in enclosed spaces where fumes can quickly build up. Do not leave the car engine running in the garage, even if the door is partially open. This can build up fumes very quickly that can seep through door cracks into the interior of the home.
In places of employment, make sure that all staff are trained on the dangers, causes, effects and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, and encourage them to report anything suspicious.
It is important for everyone to play their part in prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning, whether you are in a private family dwelling or a place of employment. People need to take steps to learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatments, in order to arm themselves as thoroughly as possible against this deadly, undetectable disease.
By raising awareness, training and educating yourself and others, and ensuring that all possible safety precautions are taken, you could help to prevent this deadly gas from damaging or killing someone close to you, or even yourself.
If you have any questions or require additional information on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, you may contact your fuel provider company or your local fire department.