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A matter of life and death: The dangers of carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide detectors should be mounted in the air you breathe, 2-6 feet from the floor: sleeping to standing height.


"Everyone should educate themselves about what carbon monoxide can do and purchase carbon monoxide detectors," Capt. Scott A. Rotolo of the Wooster Police Department said.
A local tragedy last month made it abundantly clear carbon monoxide is an ever present and severe danger. The Wooster City Police Department recently lost a staff member along with her husband and dog when all three were found dead in their home due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
"What happened to our friends was tragic and may have been prevented if a CO alarm went off to alert them," Rotolo said. "If someone reading this article goes out and buys a CO detector that someday saves one person, then perhaps their deaths where not in vain."
Aptly named the silent killer, carbon monoxide can build up in a home from a wide variety of sources, particularly in the winter. The deadly gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless.
Lt. Brian Rafferty of Holmes Fire District #1 explained CO gas starves vital organs like the brain and heart by replacing oxygen in the blood.
Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can mimic the flu without the fever or body aches and often go unnoticed as to their true cause. The early signs are red flushed skin due to lack of oxygen, nausea and vomiting, headaches and dizziness.
Later signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include fatigue, weakness and lightheadedness. Serious signs are muscle fatigue, decreased control of bodily functions, chest pain and loss of consciousness.
There are many potential sources of carbon monoxide that can be found in a home, garage or workplace. According to Rafferty, carbon monoxide can come from the improper or incomplete burning of natural gas or carbon-based fuels such as propane, gasoline, kerosene, wood, coal and charcoal.
It also can come from improper or blocked venting or chimneys from heaters, furnaces, and wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Carbon monoxide can potentially come from "any appliance that burns a fuel that is not properly vented," Rafferty said.
Leaving a car running inside a garage or just outside a window also can raise carbon monoxide levels inside.
"Make sure that furnace and appliance vents do not come out next to a window that can allow it to get pushed back in by the wind," Rafferty said.
Carbon monoxide detectors are as crucial in every home and place of business as smoke detectors. "Other than seeing the source like a broken vent from an appliance and understanding the potential dangers, it's the only way a person is going to know that they are being exposed to CO gases," Rafferty said.
Detectors are designed to sound an alarm when carbon monoxide is detected. The devices contain a chemical or gel that forms a reaction when exposed to CO gases.
CO detectors have a shorter lifespan than smoke detectors and should be replaced more often. It is important to check the manufacturer's recommendation for replacement and adhere to it in order to be assured that adequate protection is in place.
Placement recommendations also are different for CO detectors than those suggested for smoke detectors. Rafferty said, "Combo smoke/CO detectors are better than nothing. The issue is smoke detectors need to be mounted high, and CO detectors need to be on the wall 2-6 feet from the floor."
In other words the safest bet is to purchase separate CO detectors even when combo devices are in place in ceilings.
As with smoke detectors, there are a variety of options on the market. The key words, according to Rafferty, are "high quality."
There are battery-powered models that can be mounted anywhere, yet they require changing the batteries regularly. There are plug-in models, but the concern with these is that it is easy to unplug them to use the outlet and then forget to put them back.
"Detectors that are directly wired with a battery backup would be the best," Rafferty said, "but are not easy to install and would be more costly. These would be best done when building a new house."
Rafferty explained that because CO is a bit lighter than air, it usually mixes with the air rather than rapidly rising like smoke does. So CO detectors "should be mounted in the air you breathe," he said, "2-6 feet from the floor: sleeping to standing height."
Rafferty said, "You should always read and follow manufacturer's directions."
He also said if a carbon monoxide detector goes off, it should be treated just like a fire. "Get out and stay out," he said. Then call 911. It's important to tell the dispatcher whether or not you are having symptoms of CO poisoning.
Today there are more problems with carbon monoxide than in years past. "One thought on why we see more of a problem with CO is our homes are so weatherproof," Rafferty said. "They are sealed up so tight that the home doesn't breathe. So a little bit of CO can cause problems in a newer home where it may not have in an older one."
Much information can be found online regarding carbon monoxide dangers, safety and detectors. One source of information is www.silentshadow.org.
"Unfortunately this is timely information with the recent deaths from CO," Rafferty said.
The bottom line is carbon monoxide detectors can save your life and the lives of those you love.

Published: December 5, 2017
New Article ID: 2017171129908