Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Colorless And Odorless Killer

This is a news release from Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department published verbatim.

CO alarm

Photo courtesy of NFPA

Today is the last day of National Poison Prevention Week!

The women and men of your Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department want you to take action to protect your loved ones from poisoning tragedies!

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. It causes more than 150 accidental fatalities each year; thousands more are treated in hospitals for CO poisoning. CO combines with hemoglobin in our blood and robs the blood of the oxygen our body needs. Early symptoms of exposure are similar to the flu and include headache, fatigue, nausea, and confused thinking (so victims cannot think clearly enough to get assistance). Without treatment, the victim will lose consciousness, and if no help is given will lose their life.

CO is produced by combustion. Common causes are:

  • Defective gas or oil furnaces and water heaters
  • Cracked chimney flues
  • Indoor use of charcoal grills
  • Use of a gas oven or range to warm a room
  • Running a car in an enclosed area
  • Closing the fireplace damper before the fire is completely out

CO accidents are preventable. Actions you should take to protect your family are:

  • Each year you should have a qualified technician inspect your gas furnace and appliances.
  • Never allow your car to run in an enclosed area, especially if it is a garage attached to your house.
  • Make sure your fireplace is in good repair and do not close the damper before the fire is out.
  • Install CO alarms to give your family a warning if CO is building up in your house.

CO alarms should be located on every floor and mounted according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If the alarm goes off, everyone should get out of the house at once and call the fire department by dialing 911 from a neighbor’s house. Do not ventilate your house by opening doors and windows. When the fire department personnel arrive they will obtain CO readings in different areas of your home to determine the source of the CO.

Another very important point to remember is that you still need a working smoke alarm on every level of your home. The CO alarm does not sense smoke or fire. Smoke alarms are needed to give your family early warning if there is a fire in your home.

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