Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the leading cause of poisoning worldwide, with it killing and injuring more people than all other poisons combined. (Carbon Monoxide Protection) It is colorless and odorless, becomes toxic at 25 ppm (parts per million), and deadly at 400 ppm.  The early symptoms of CO poisoning often mimic the flu, causing headaches, nausea, unclear thinking, shortness of breath, weakness, and loss of muscle control.  CO accounts for about 40,000 known cases of poisoning in the U.S. each year, and in about 500 of these cases the person dies.  Some experts estimate that about 11,000 undetected cases occur each year, and because of this have recommended routine emergency room screening for CO poisoning. (Routine Screenings Uncover Hidden Carbon Monoxide Poisoning)  

In about half of the most serious cases where people do survive they will later develop permanent brain damage.  Now researchers know part of the reason why; in about half of the cases of permanent brain damage (so for a total of a quarter of the most serious cases where the people survive) it’s an autoimmune reaction.  CO alters some of the brain’s myelin in such a way that a person’s immune system attacks it, then doesn’t know when to stop, and goes after much of the rest of the brain’s myelin.  (Long-term Effects Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Are An Autoimmune Reaction)  (GAS ATTACK: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If that wasn’t bad enough, CO harms people in a number of other ways.  It can permanently damage a person’s heart, independently of its role in oxygen deprivation.  (Carbon Monoxide May Cause Long-lasting Heart Damage)  The fetus is particularly vulnerable to it, down to levels as low as 25 ppm.  (Tiny Levels Of Carbon Monoxide Damage Fetal Brain)  Children and infants might suffer hearing damage at these same levels. (How chronic exposure to tiny levels of carbon monoxide damages hearing in young ears)  Also the probability of hearing damage goes up if noise and carbon monoxide are combined. (Noise And Carbon Monoxide Exposure Increases Hearing Loss In Workers According To Université De Montréal Study

Here is a laundry list of things to do to avoid killing yourself with CO:

Have at least one CO detector in your home outside each sleeping area, and in your workplace.  Make sure they’re working.  If one goes off get out and call 911.  (Know About CO - Alarm Education) (The Silent Killer: Selecting an Effective Carbon Monoxide Detector that can Save Lives)  (

Have your gas or oil furnace, wood stove, fireplace, gasoline powered generator, gas water heater, gas oven, gas dryer, kerosene and gas space heaters, stove and any other gas, oil, wood, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year. 

All gas appliances must be vented, with a pipe that is somewhat vertical and not perfectly horizontal.  Always properly patch a vent pipe.  Only buy gas equipment that is certified by the AGA or UL. 

Your gas oven should have an exhaust fan, and also never heat your house with your oven.

Don’t use a generator, camp stove, kerosene heater, charcoal or gas grill, portable flameless chemical heater (catalytic) in your home, garage, or even outside near a window.  You should never burn charcoal indoors. (Portable Heater and Generator Safety) (Unvented Portable Kerosene Heaters – Safety Considerations)

Don’t run a car inside a garage, especially if it is attached to your house.  Have your car’s exhaust system checked every year.  If you have a vehicle with a tailgate, if you open it you must open the vents and windows to move air through your car or truck.  Be very careful about letting people ride in the back of an enclosed pickup truck.

Don’t use any gasoline powered engines such as mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, weed trimmers, generators, or small engines in enclosed spaces.  A propane or charcoal barbecue should only be used outdoors away from any buildings. 

If your refrigerator’s cooling unit gives off an odor have it checked, it could be giving off CO.

Spray paint, solvents, degreasers, paint removers, and cigarette smoke are all sources of CO.

It can be dangerous to swim near a boat’s stern when the engine is running.  You shouldn’t moor next to a boat that is running its engine or a generator.  Your boat should also have a CO detector. (Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Causes) (Boating and Boat Safety: Reduce the Odds of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning)

When you are traveling you should remember that there is no federal law that requires CO detectors in hotels, and about 50 people a year are poisoned in them.  (Hotel Guests At Risk From Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, According To Study)  Some people recommend traveling with a portable CO detector, and one such model is the Costar P-1.  (How to Ensure your Safety against Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Hotels)

CO poisonings sometimes occur after a disaster when people are using emergency generators. (CDC – Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After a Disaster)

Doctors recommend that you seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous. 

One positive step is that researchers have developed a new method for clearing carbon monoxide from a person.  Instead of using 100% oxygen they used a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which cleared CO three times faster.  (Simple New Method Holds Great Promise For Treating Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Quickly And Easily)

Another interesting wrinkle in the CO story is “that paranormal experiences track quite closely with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.” (From a reader’s comment on Haunted Houses Possibly Explained – Lost Wanderer) (Carbon monoxide as an explanation for perceived hauntings – Haunted house – Wikipedia)

Having said all this, doctors are finding that CO can be useful in some circumstances.  It turns out that a little CO can be beneficial in treating pre-eclampsia. (When Preventing Pre-eclampsia, A Little Carbon Monoxide Goes A Long Way)  (However, I think a safer and more natural alternative might be vitamin D supplementation. (Vitamin D for the Prevention of Preeclampsia?  A Hypothesis.))  And CO is an anti-inflammatory that could be useful in treating certain lung diseases, multiple sclerosis, and other inflammatory conditions. (Carbon monoxide could fight disease and Carbon monoxide may protect against MS symptoms)  

Finally, here are some general overviews of CO related information and CO poisoning. (Carbon monoxide poisoning – Wikipedia) (An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality – Carbon Monoxide (CO))

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4 Responses to “Carbon Monoxide”

  1. Creature of nature says:

    Those facts at the beginning are very interesting!

    Overlooked among the many cautions are parking garages, especially the arrangements where a house of apartment building is built above a garage or parking facility. (Hot gases rise.) The law in Champaign strongly encourages, almost mandates, that new apartment houses incorporate parking space.

    Also overlooked is the widespread practice among bus and truck drivers of letting their vehicles idle for extended periods. Especially regrettable is numbers of school buses idling away while pupils are milling around and/or waiting on board for buses to leave.

  2. lost_wanderer says:

    Thank you. There are so many not-so-obvious hazards out there that it’s difficult to be aware of all of them.

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