Carbon Monoxide Safety
Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that has no odor or color. It can cause sudden illness and death. CO is found in stoves, gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these fumes can build up in places that don’t have a good flow of fresh air.
The health threat from lower levels of CO is most serious for those who suffer from heart disease, like angina, clogged arteries, or congestive heart failure. For a person with heart disease, a single exposure to CO at low levels may cause chest pain and reduce that person’s ability to exercise; repeated exposures may contribute to other cardiovascular effects.
Central Nervous System Effects
Even healthy people can be affected by high levels of CO. People who breathe high levels of CO can develop vision problems, reduced ability to work or learn, reduced manual dexterity, and difficulty performing complex tasks. At extremely high levels, CO is poisonous and can cause death.
The pollution that CO distributes in the air of your home or business can trigger serious respiratory problems and cause long-term damage. It’s not worth the risk.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, practically odorless, and tasteless gas or liquid. It results from incomplete oxidation of carbon in combustion. Burns with a violet flame. Slightly soluble in water; soluble in alcohol and benzene. Specific gravity 0.96716; boiling point -190oC; solidification point -207oC; specific volume 13.8 cu. ft./lb. (70oF). Auto ignition temperature (liquid) 1128oF. Classed as an inorganic compound. Source: “The Condensed Chemical Dictionary,” 9th ed., revised by Gessner G. Hawley, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., NY, 1977.
Sources of Carbon Monoxide
Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke. Incomplete oxidation during combustion in gas ranges and unvented gas or kerosene heaters may cause high concentrations of CO in indoor air. Worn or poorly adjusted and maintained combustion devices (e.g., boilers, furnaces) can be significant sources, or if the flue is improperly sized, blocked, disconnected, or is leaking. Auto, truck, or bus exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, or parking areas can also be a source.
Health Effects Associated with Carbon Monoxide
At low concentrations, fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease. At higher concentrations, impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Can cause flu-like symptoms that clear up after leaving home. Fatal at very high concentrations. Acute effects are due to the formation of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood, which inhibits oxygen intake. At moderate concentrations, angina, impaired vision, and reduced brain function may result. At higher concentrations, CO exposure can be fatal.
Levels in Homes
Average levels in homes without gas stoves vary from 0.5 to 5 parts per million (ppm). Levels near properly adjusted gas stoves are often 5 to 15 ppm and those near poorly adjusted stoves may be 30 ppm or higher.
Steps to Reduce Exposure to Carbon Monoxide
It is most important to be sure combustion equipment is maintained and properly adjusted. Vehicular use should be carefully managed adjacent to buildings and in vocational programs. Additional ventilation can be used as a temporary measure when high levels of CO are expected for short periods of time. Keep gas appliances properly adjusted. Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one. Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters. Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves. Open flues when fireplaces are in use. Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly. Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly. Do not idle the car inside garage.
Some relatively high-cost infrared radiation adsorption and electrochemical instruments do exist. Moderately priced real-time measuring devices are also available. A passive monitor is currently under development.
Standards or Guidelines
No standards for CO have been agreed upon for indoor air. The U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards for outdoor air are 9 ppm (40,000 micrograms per meter cubed) for 8 hours, and 35 ppm for 1 hour. CPSC Recommends Carbon Monoxide Alarm for Every Home (January 18, 2001 CPSC Release # 01-069) The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that every home should have a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm. CPSC also urges consumers to have a professional inspection of all fuel- burning appliances — including furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers, water heaters, and space heaters — to detect deadly carbon monoxide leaks. CPSC recommends that every home should have at least one CO alarm that meets the requirements of the most recent Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 2034 standard or International Approval Services 6-96 standardHealth and Environmental Impacts of CO Carbon monoxide can cause harmful health effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body’s organs (like the heart and brain) and tissues.
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